Healthy Holiday Eating: How to Make Nutritious Choices Amidst the Festive Feasts

Healthy Holiday Eating: How to Make Nutritious Choices Amidst the Festive Feasts

Written by Brianna Fear-Keen
Dietician & Accredited Nutritionist 
IG: @yourfamilysnutritionist

With Christmas just around the corner, the endless end of year events and the busy-ness of the year that was, it can be easy to fall in a heap and over-indulge as a form of relaxation and celebration at the end of the year. 

Hi, I’m Brianna Fear-Keen, Accredited Practising Dietitian and I help make nutrition a priority and weight loss possible. 

In this blog post, I am going to delve into 5 strategies I teach my clients to help them make healthier choices during the holiday season and take away the focus being on food, and redirecting their attention to the joy and connection that the festive season brings. I explore practical tips to help you navigate the holidays with intention and balance. From planning ahead and setting achievable goals to savoring nutrient-dense options and staying active, I'll guide you through a holistic approach to celebrating the season that will leave you with a sense of well-being that doesn’t sabotage all your efforts throughout the year. 

Plan ahead and Set Realistic Goals

It can be difficult to navigate all of the temptations that are on offer throughout the holiday period. However I think it’s important to not pull the reigns in too tight as the wheels will inevitably fall off quickly. I suggest trying to prioritize a balanced mix of nutrient-dense foods, including colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. By having a rough outline of your daily food intake, you can strategically allocate room for indulgences without compromising your overall nutritional goals. Nothing bugs me more, than hearing people have “saved up” all their calories to have a blow out at their special occasion. Setting realistic objectives is important in ensuring a sustainable and positive relationship with holiday eating. Rather than adopting an all-or-nothing mentality, which can lead to feelings of deprivation and potential binge-eating episodes, focus on moderation. When was the last time you gave yourself permission to eat what felt good to you? By acknowledging that festive occasions often come with an array of tempting treats, and it's perfectly acceptable to savor them sensibly, we can not feel deprived and this leads to less feast-famine eating behavior.. This might involve enjoying a small piece of dessert or a handful of seasonal snacks without feeling guilty. Setting achievable goals tailored to your preferences and lifestyle will increase your ability to maintain your healthy eating plan, not just in the holiday period, but the whole year. The other thing I want you to consider is the social aspect of holiday gatherings—connecting with others over shared meals is a significant part of the festivities. Food is often connection with family and friends so by taking away the focus from food and moving it to the connection you will experience, we can create realistic expectations, make informed choices that align with your health goals, allow youself to relish the joy of the season, all  without compromising your well-being. So…..a thoughtful and realistic approach to holiday eating not only ensures a pleasurable and guilt-free experience but also sets the stage for a positive start to the upcoming year. 

Focus on Portion Control

In the midst of holiday festivities, when food is in abundance, our time is more leisurely, maintaining mindful portions can be difficult.. One effective strategy I teach my clients  is to be acutely aware of portion sizes during your meals. Opting for smaller plates can automatically regulate the amount of food served, creating a visual illusion of a fuller plate and discouraging overindulgence. Moreover, resisting the temptation to go back for seconds can significantly contribute to managing calorie intake. If you are at an event where it is serve yourself, or food is left out on a table, take your plate, pop on it what you want, then move yourself away from the table to prevent the constant eating whilst distracted talking to people. Beyond the choice of dishes, tuning into your body's hunger and fullness cues plays a crucial role in promoting mindful eating habits. Did you know it takes 20 minutes for the hormones responsible for fullness and satiety to send the signals to your brain?  Eating slowly and deliberately allows you to savor each bite, facilitating a more profound connection with the sensory experience of enjoying food and allows your body to recognise that fullness cues so you can stop eating when you are satisfied, vs being full - there is a difference! By granting your body the time it needs to send signals of satiety to the brain, you are less likely to consume excess calories. This practice encourages a harmonious relationship with food, emphasizing the importance of quality over quantity. Incorporating this mindful approach to portion control not only aids in preventing overeating during holiday gatherings but also instills a lasting foundation for a healthful relationship with food. As you navigate the banquet of holiday eating, remember that the art of portion control is not about restriction but rather about savoring each moment and mouthful, fostering a sense of satisfaction. 

Choose Nutrient-Dense Options

The key to satisfaction lies in selecting foods that deliver a powerhouse of essential vitamins and minerals without an excess of empty calories. My advice to you when navigating holiday eating is to choose foods that are as nutrient dense as they can be. The key components I am talking about are: 

  • A colorful array of vegetables, rich in antioxidants and fiber, can form the vibrant foundation of your holiday plate.
  • Integrating lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, lean meat, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, tempeh, legumes which not only contributes to muscle maintenance but also provides a sense of satiety. 
  • Whole grains, with their complex carbohydrates, fiber, and various nutrients, add a wholesome dimension to your meals. 

By prioritizing these nutrient-dense components, you not only fortify your body with essential nutrients but also create a framework that allows for a more balanced indulgence in holiday treats. An effective strategy is to fill up on these healthier options before delving into foods that are less nutrient dense, but perhaps bring other properties to your meal - enjoyment, satisfaction…..This preemptive approach helps to nourish your body but also curbs the temptation to overindulge in foods that are not as nutrient dense, but more calorie, fat, sugar rich. I recommend a 9/10 approach with my clients. Nine times out of 10 you are on track doing the right thing, there are opportunities for you to indulge every now and then.  Balancing the festive spirit with a commitment to nutrient-dense choices enables you to revel in the joy of the season without compromising your overall well-being. Ultimately, embracing these wholesome options lays the groundwork for a more mindful and healthful celebration, allowing you to fully enjoy the festivities while prioritizing your nutritional needs.

Stay Hydrated

Ensuring adequate hydration is a cornerstone of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, particularly during the holiday season when indulgent treats abound. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day serves as a fundamental strategy for promoting overall well-being. We need fluid for so many of our bodies functions and if we want our body to be functioning the best it can, we need to remain hydrated. Drinking enough water will not only support our bodies functions, but it will aid digestion, keeps up full and our bowels regular.  Our bodies, at times, can misinterpret signals of thirst as hunger, leading to unnecessary snacking and potentially overeating. One of the first signs of dehydration is thirst. By the time you have a headache, you are already dehydrated and who wants a headache over the holiday season? This is the time for you to be relaxed and happy. By drinking enough, you create a clearer line of communication with your body, helping to distinguish between genuine hunger and the need for fluids.

Let’s take a look at drink choices…… Opting for water over sugary beverages and excessive alcohol not only contributes to hydration but also aids in calorie control. Sugary drinks and alcohol can significantly contribute to overall calorie intake, and their consumption can sometimes be mindless in the midst of celebration. If you choose to indulge, moderation is key. Balancing each indulgence with ample water not only helps in diluting the caloric impact but also prevents dehydration often associated with alcohol consumption. Can you try alternating a alcoholic drink with a non alcoholic drink or swap your full sugar soda to a diet variety? This strategic approach not only supports your body's hydration needs but also fosters a more conscious and balanced approach to enjoying holiday beverages.

Incorporate Physical Activity

It’s easy to lose your regular activity routine when you have time off work, your kids aren’t at school and your usual weekly routine is disrupted. Weaving some forms of physical activity into your holiday routine is going to still be important for your physical and mental health. It may not be what you usually do, but you might partake in other activities that you don’t have time for during the year. Exercise has so many benefits - helps with weight loss, brings down your blood sugar levels, decreases your cholesterol levels, lowers your blood pressure, helps with stress and mental health, helps you sleep better and the list goes on.

Rather than “veging out” over the holiday season, make a conscious effort to stay active. This can take various delightful forms, from leisurely strolls to more structured activities like participating in a festive workout class. Engaging in fun outdoor activities with friends and family not only promotes physical health but also cultivates shared experiences, strengthening the bonds that define the holiday spirit. It doesn't have to be seen as “exercise” but can you reframe it to be a fun activity with a friend, family etc?

One of the beauties of incorporating physical activity into your holiday routine is the potential for creating a shared commitment to well-being. Encourage friends and family to join you in staying active, transforming it into a social and enjoyable experience. Whether it's a family walk after a hearty meal or organizing a friendly game outdoors, the communal aspect of staying active not only makes it more fun but also strengthens the sense of togetherness that defines the holiday season. So I encourage you to embrace physical activity and exercise during the holidays as a gift to yourself and those around you. 

Final thoughts: Navigating the holidays mindfully. 

The festive season is just around the corner and as such, it's important to approach the holiday eating with a mindful and balanced perspective. Planning ahead and setting realistic goals can provide a roadmap for making healthier choices without sacrificing the joy of celebration. By prioritizing nutrient-dense options such as colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, we can indulge in the season's delights while nourishing our bodies. Practicing mindful portion control encourages savoring each bite and listening to our body's hunger cues, promoting a more intuitive and satisfying eating experience.

Staying hydrated emerges as a powerful tool in managing holiday indulgences, helping us differentiate between thirst and hunger while curbing unnecessary snacking. Opting for water over sugary beverages and alcohol not only supports hydration but also aids in calorie control. Incorporating physical activity into our holiday routine is a holistic approach to well-being. From festive workout classes to outdoor activities with loved ones, staying active not only burns calories but also uplifts our mood and energy levels.

In conclusion, the holiday season is a time of joy, connection, and celebration. By integrating these mindful strategies into our festivities, we can truly enjoy the season's delights while nurturing our physical and mental well-being. Let's celebrate not only the traditions of the season but also the gift of well-being and creating memories. Here's to a season filled with joy, connection, and a nourished mind and body.


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