By Grace Burton, MS, RD, LDN

The holidays are approaching fast and this usually means more celebrations filled with extra sweets and treats. Given the current pandemic, this year will surely look different with less holiday parties and family gatherings. However, many of us will still be participating in holiday traditions at home. Weight gain is a common trend typically associated with this time of year. In fact, many people go into the season with the expectation that they will eat large quantities of whatever they want and start over in the new year with plenty of restrictive resolutions, which supports the unsustainable “all or nothing” mindset. But what if you were able to enjoy the holiday treats without all the dreaded food guilt and extra pounds? Follow some tips below to practice mindfulness throughout this holiday season.

Maintain a Regular Eating Schedule

We are often tempted to restrict earlier in the day in preparation for a large holiday meal later. However, this usually backfires and causes us to feel ravenous and more likely to go for seconds or thirds at mealtime. Furthermore, skipping meals and going too long without eating makes it harder to control cravings and can lead to eating more treats than planned. Make sure to eat regular meals and snacks in between as needed throughout the day to avoid going longer than 4-5 hours without eating, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels and appetite.

Prioritize

Whether it’s in the break room at work or at a home gathering, there may be treats around that you love to indulge in and there may be options that you don’t prefer. While there may be temptation to eat something just because it’s around, try to practice mindfulness which will help to save the indulging for treats that will truly satisfy you. First – are you physically hungry? Is your stomach growling and/or are you feeling low energy? Or are you just bored or stressed? If you’re not physically hungry, try to do something to distract yourself by going outside for a walk or spending time talking to (or calling) a family member.

Prioritizing can also be practiced when serving yourself food at the holiday meal or when choosing from multiple dessert options. Think about what will really satisfy your taste buds and try smaller portions of it so that you don’t feel uncomfortably full after the meal. Avoid the foods that don’t seem as enticing – eating unsatisfying foods isn’t worth it!

Beware of the Booze

Holiday meals may also include more alcohol than usual, but be careful! The more alcohol that we drink, the more our inhibitions are lowered and the more our appetites increase, meaning we are more likely to consume more food (and more calorie dense options) than we would without the influence of alcohol. The recommendation is 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day.

Balance Out The Plate

While many of the typical holiday sides can be more calorie dense, save some room on the plate for some nutritious options. Try to fill up half of the plate with colorful foods to ensure that you’re consuming more vitamins and fiber, which can help promote satiety. Balance out the other half of the plate with equal parts starchy foods (such as macaroni & cheese, sweet potatoes, and stuffing) and protein sources (such as ham, turkey, or deviled eggs).

Eat Slowly and Check In With Yourself

A major part of mindfulness is eating slowly and really focusing on the food in front of you. When we are distracted and eating quickly, we aren’t really paying attention to our food and we’re less likely to be in tune with feeling our hunger and satiety cues. This can lead to overeating and realizing we are uncomfortably full a little too late. Slow down and really taste your food to help feel more satisfied with the meal, which can help with portion control as well.

Enjoy Yourself

The holidays are all about spending time with your loved ones, not worrying about or obsessing over your food choices. Try to relax your food rules and avoid the diet mindset – you don’t want stress or guilt about what foods you are or are not eating to get in the way of enjoying this traditionally special time of year. Eating should be nourishing and enjoyable, regardless of the time of year. It is totally okay to indulge in more calorie-dense treats and in fact by trying to avoid them, it may lead to feeling deprived and unsatisfied. This can ultimately lead to eating way more than you might have if you had given yourself permission to eat a portion of the treat to begin with.

For more help with healthy eating or for some extra accountability and support throughout the holiday season, call to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care registered dietitian by calling (919) 237-1337, option 4 or visit our website: https://avancenutrition.com/.

Grace is a registered dietitian working at the Wake Forest and Northeast Raleigh locations. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her new puppy, Lucy. She also likes to run, and especially likes doing races in other cities because it gives her an excuse to visit new places. She loves trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the NC State Wolfpack at football and basketball games.