5 Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
The holidays can be a challenging time with increased stress, hectic schedules, more kids’ activities, travel, family dynamics, financial pressure, and so on. In addition, the holidays bring up another layer of stress for those struggling with their relationship with food or working to make healthy lifestyle changes.
During the holidays, you may eat foods you don’t typically eat or experience more triggers that lead to overeating. Perhaps you try to use willpower to get you through but ultimately surrender to the indulgence and then experience guilt or shame. You may also compensate for eating certain foods with unhealthy behaviors like food restriction or over-exercise. All this adds more stress, making navigating the holidays even harder.
If this sounds like you or you can relate occasionally, this article will offer some practical ideas and coaching around your relationship with food this holiday season. If you have an eating disorder or need more support, please work with your healthcare team. This information does not substitute for medical advice.
Keep reading to learn five tips for healthy holiday eating, including:
- Getting comfortable with a middle ground
- Tuning in and collecting data
- Slowing down with food (and life)
- Practicing foundational self-care
- Being kind toward yourself through it all
Let’s get started!
Healthy Eating for the Holidays – 5 Tips
With these tips, I won’t tell you what foods to eat or how much but offer some tried-and-true strategies for caring for yourself when life is busy and stressful.
Tip #1 – Get Comfy with the Uncomfortable (Find the Middle Ground)
So many of us experience the extremes regarding food. Perhaps the holidays are a free-for-all, and then you begin a diet or “being good” come January 1st. Or maybe you skip meals to “save” calories for a holiday party or event, only to overdo it with the booze and sweets later in the day.
If you are either “on the diet” or “off the diet” and “good” or “bad” with your eating, the extremes of dieting mentality put your body in a stressed state. If this is your experience, it’s not your fault. Diet culture and the wellness industry highly influence your thoughts and actions around food.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. What would a middle ground look like for you?
Consider an 80/20 framework. Eighty percent of the time, you eat the foods that nourish your body and make you feel your best. You focus on whole foods, eating enough protein, and supplementing with quality products. The other 20% of the time, eat for pleasure and the pure joy of eating.
If you are going through a health crisis, you may need a 90/10 approach. Over the holidays you might expand to 70/30. It can be flexible with your body’s needs, provide a solid foundation of good nutrition, and allow for your favorite holiday treats. Apple pie, anyone?
Tip #2 – Collect Data
Many people are confused about what to eat with so much information available, much of it conflicting. And we can become paralyzed with choices or judgmental when our eating habits don’t match what we think we “should” be doing.
Instead of looking outward for the next expert opinion or strategy, tune inward. You know your body the best, and it’s always providing you with feedback. Learning to listen is key.
Approach eating like a science experiment, with curiosity and no attachment to the outcome. Try new foods, new recipes, and new nutrition strategies. Then, tune into how your body feels.
This mindset is excellent for clarifying what works for your body and is particularly helpful over the holidays. After every holiday eating experience, tune into your body. How’s your hunger, energy, sleep, cravings, and mood?
Collecting this data helps you connect the dots between how different foods make you feel and make more informed choices moving forward.
Tip # 3 – Take it Slow
The holidays tend to be fast-paced; we are so busy we miss what’s right in front of us, including food. When you eat in a rushed or stressed way, your digestion doesn’t work as well. You might experience digestive symptoms or finish eating, but fullness doesn’t register in the brain, and you look for more.
Slowing down can be applied to the whole holiday season. Be picky about how you spend your time, say no to some things, and slow the pace so you enjoy it.
Approach food in the same way. Be choosy about what you eat. Instead of tasting everything in front of you, prioritize what you most want to eat and get the best version.
Eat slowly in a relaxed state. Pay attention to your senses and your interactions with the food. Enjoy good company while you eat. Pause between bites. Extract the entire eating experience. Get the pleasure without the guilt.
Tip #4 – Up Your Self-Care
To slow down and make good choices for your body, you need to be operating from a full cup (or at least not an empty one). During the holidays (or any stressful time), prioritize the basics – regular meals, restful sleep, movement, and stress management. Add supportive supplements, like a multivitamin, fish oil, and probiotics, to help you fill in nutrient gaps and give your body added support.
A regular eating schedule will help you feel grounded and manage hunger and cravings when you may have more activities centered around food.
For example, if you have a nourishing breakfast and lunch, you’ll be comfortably full for your afternoon holiday party. You can pick the cookie or treat you most want to enjoy, and it will be easier to leave the rest. Or, if you have an event in the evening, bring a nourishing dish to share or grab a protein shake ahead of time.
Maintaining a regular eating pattern will help you find more balance. It does take some planning ahead. Think through your schedule for the next few weeks and list what you can do ahead of time to set yourself up for success.
Tip #5 – Practice Self-Compassion
Even with our best intentions and planning, eating doesn’t always go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Going back to Tip #2, we need bad days to provide good data. Reflect on what happened, how you feel, and what you might do differently next time. And then let it go with a hefty dose of self-compassion.
Holding on to guilt around food increases stress and perpetuates unhealthy cycles. Practice letting go and moving forward with the next way you can care for yourself.
What would help you restore balance and feel better? You don’t need to wait until your New Year’s resolution; start with your next meal or snack and choose something that makes you feel good. Or, go for a walk, call a friend, meditate, or go grocery shopping for nourishing food. There are many ways to make progress on your goals and practice kindness with yourself.
You build health by what you do most of the time, day in and day out. One meal or one day isn’t going to negate the goals you’ve been working toward. Look for progress and how this holiday season has shifted from the last.
Your relationship with food is complex and doesn’t transform overnight. Find ways to create space, pause, and connect with yourself. This exploration can be harder during the holidays, but it is also very helpful.
Food is many things – it nourishes our bodies, fuels us, and allows us to move, think, and express ourselves. Eating is also a significant way we interact with the environment and the world around us.
This holiday season, let food be all these things and a source of pleasure, joy, connection, tradition, and health.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.