Be Well, Eat Well, and Enjoy the Holiday Season!

Shetal Desai Rautela, RD, CDCES
November 12, 2021
5 mins

For many of us, the start of winter brings various holiday celebrations and gathering with family and friends — as well as scrumptious seasonal and holiday foods. After all, what would the holidays be without the smells of baked goods, sweet treats, and savory family favorites filling our homes! But too often, these tasty pleasures are followed by guilt and self-criticism because we’ve “failed” in our goals to eat healthily. To avoid these post-holiday blues, let’s talk about some mindful eating techniques you can employ during this holiday season. 

A first step is to remind yourself of the hard work you have put in throughout the year to care for yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for that! It takes heart and mind to meet your daily needs of eating well, moving well, sleeping well, and managing stress. Rather than thinking of the holiday season’s large meals, desserts, and fried foods as guilty pleasures or as “cheating,” how about embracing holiday foods with open arms and acceptance? 

Often, a change in how we think about holiday eating can open our minds to food choices that we can enjoy, truly relish, and happily stop eating once we’re full.

It certainly is “mind over matter” when it comes to holiday eating! Here are my recommendations: 

+ Steer clear of a “dieting” mentality.

The human brain is wired to crave things we completely forbid. For instance, if you say, “I will not eat the pumpkin pie for dessert,” you may be more likely to overdo it with another food (or beat yourself up if the pumpkin pie proves irresistible). Instead, by allowing yourself to choose the dessert if you want to, you give yourself permission to eat it, enjoy it, and stop once you’re full.

+ Move away from thinking that you are “saving the best for last” with dessert. 

People have made sweet foods an indulgence and a reward — but  placing them on this pedestal can also make them a “forbidden food.” And although a healthy diet is typically low in sugar and fat (which holiday desserts tend to be high in), you can probably take them off the “forbidden” list. Graciously allow sweet foods to step down from that pedestal; give them room on your special-occasion plate, along with your serving of roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes, and turkey (or other protein). Plan for dessert as another part of your meal, rather than saving it for last as an “indulgence” (which may lead to eating even after you’re full).

(As you head into the holidays, if you feel like you need support in eating healthy and well, make an appointment to talk to your healthcare provider! They can give you personalized tips and guidance to help keep you feeling good into the new year.)

Here are some other mindful eating concepts you can practice throughout the year:

     • Eat at the table.

     • Set your fork down between bites.

     • Avoid going to the table extremely hungry (which can lead to overeating).

     • Make time for gratitude — pause before beginning your meal. Think of all the flavors you are about to relish. 

     • Remind yourself to stop eating when you’re full, even if there is food left on the plate (end your membership in the “Clean Plate Club”).

+ Aim for weight maintenance. 

Weight is not necessarily a measure of health, but many people do track their weight throughout the year (either because of a personal goal or at a healthcare provider’s recommendation) and may worry about the effects of the holidays. If that sounds familiar, consider aiming for a realistic weight management plan for the season. For instance, rather than setting high expectations such as “I will continue to lose a pound a week during December,” how about “I will aim for maintaining my weight during the holiday season.” Setting realistic expectations will help keep you motivated to continue working toward your health goals. 

+ Replace nibbles with a non-food activity.

A lot of factors cause extra snacking during the holiday season: Colder weather means more time indoors. And holiday treats are everywhere, from the break room at work to your own refrigerator. In moments when you realize that you are eating because “there’s nothing else to do” or simply because the food is there, start wiring your brain toward non-food activities. 

     • Hydrate up — drink water instead.

     • Breathe some fresh air — step outside for a brisk walk.

     • Forest bathe! If you’re lucky to be close to nature, embrace the fall season changes around you: the smell of the ocean or the trees can be soothing and help end non-hunger-related food cravings. 

     • Find another activity you enjoy, either on your own or with a friend or relative.

Be the change you want to see.

The holiday season is a time to gather with friends and family. Be a leader — take the initiative to share ideas and recipes for well-balanced meals. The American Diabetes Association has many healthy recipe ideas to choose from. Remember, the idea is to include a variety of food groups rather than excluding certain foods. Again, restrictions can actually create the urge to indulge more, especially during the holiday season

+ When in doubt, move more!

So your Thanksgiving meal caught up to you. It’s still possible to steer clear of guilt and prevent a downward spiral of overindulgence through the holiday season. Why not get moving? Head out for a walk, make time for a yoga class, or even just have a five-minute dance break in the living room with your family!

(Has it been a while since you exercised? Read “Tips on Restarting a Fitness Routine or Starting a New One.”) 

+ Think beyond food

Enjoy this holiday season for all that it brings: time to disconnect from our work routines. Time with our loved ones. Time for holiday travel. Most importantly, cherish yourself and your well-being, and plan to kick-start the new year with less guilt and more rejoicing. 

Connect with your Carbon Health care team ahead of the holiday season and soon after to build the support you need to enjoy the holidays!  

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.

Shetal Desai Rautela, RD, CDCES

Shetal Desai Rautela, RD, CDCES, is a registered dietitian and a diabetes care and education specialist at Carbon Health. She is part of our multidisciplinary home-based care and diabetes team and is passionate about personalizing meal plans that are therapeutic and enjoyable.