There’s no shortage of tasty treats this time of year. Around every dinner table, holiday party and get-together with family friends, you’ll have an opportunity to indulge—and over-indulge. Treating yourself once in a while is perfectly fine as long as you don’t have any medical conditions or dietary restrictions. But that doesn’t mean you can overdo it at every meal during the holidays. There are ways to enjoy yourself and keep your nutrition plan on track with a few simple compromises that won’t dampen your holiday fun.
“I remind patients that they shouldn’t think of the food they eat in terms of being on a diet, this is a long-term lifestyle change” says Janine Kyrillos, MD, FACP, director of the Jefferson Comprehensive Weight Management Program at Bala. “It’s not cheating, it’s eating. Make a plan and a conscious decision about what and when you’re going to eat during the holidays, and then sit down and savor it.”
Tip 1: Focus on Quality, Not Calories
Many people think portion control and the number of calories you consume are important to maintaining a healthy weight, and they may be part of your eating plan. However, the quality of food you’re eating may be more important when it comes to a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition.
“Choose food that is less processed and as close to its natural form as possible,” says Dr. Kyrillos. “Processed carbohydrates, such as the kind you find in boxed foods and most sweet treats, promote fat storage.”
Tip 2: Choose Homemade Over Store-Bought
If you are going to indulge in something delicious during the holidays, it’s better to know what’s in the dish you’re eating. That way, you can make a conscious decision without any unanticipated surprises.
“It’s better to eat a homemade treat instead of something you buy in a store,” says Dr. Kyrillos. “If you make it yourself or know who did, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re eating. Many store-bought foods are full of refined carbohydrates and sugar, which is what makes them taste so great and tricks your brain into wanting more.”
Tip 3: Don’t Set Yourself Up for Decision Fatigue
Most people can avoid foods that don’t fit with their lifestyle as long as that temptation is not in the house, at work, or in their line of sight.
“Don’t set yourself up for failure or decision fatigue, which happens when you have to consciously decide over and over again to not eat something,” says Dr. Kyrillos. “While you may be able to avoid something you walk by once or twice, it’s easy to give in eventually—so don’t keep tempting food around if you don’t want to eat it.”
Tip 4: Avoid-All-Or-Nothing Thinking
If you eat something you feel you shouldn’t have, get over it and move on. Too often, people get angry at themselves after a binge and then the destructive, negative self-talk sets in.
“Don’t completely derail your eating for the rest of the day or even longer,” says Dr. Kyrillos. “If you get one flat tire, you fix it and keep driving. You don’t say you blew it and shoot the other three.”
Tip 5: Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Watch Your Stress Level
The holidays are a chaotic and stressful time for a lot of people. Lack of sleep and increased stress make it difficult to make healthy decisions and cause your body to release hormones that make you store more fat. Ideally get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. Set aside some time for yourself to breathe and unwind.
There are many approaches to losing weight, and it’s easy to get confused about how to eat healthy. If you are interested in addressing your weight, talk to your primary care doctor or find a specialist trained in obesity medicine.