How to Indulge Without Guilt this Holiday Season

Registered Dietician

| 3 min read

A plate of Christmas cookies, cupcakes and candy canes
The holiday season is synonymous with family, fun, and of course, food. Between opulent dinners, professional gatherings and holiday parties it can feel difficult to achieve a healthy balance.
But dietary concerns shouldn’t dampen your holiday spirit. It’s possible to indulge in celebratory offerings without the added guilt. Here are some tips:
Be Rational
Be realistic about your food choices and their long-term effects. A day of relaxed eating won’t destroy your diet, but more importantly, it won’t destroy your life. One way to enjoy holiday foods without shame is by practicing portion control. Yearning for a scoop of creamy mac and cheese? Go for it. A single reasonably-sized serving won’t undermine a year of healthy eating.
Swap the Bad with the Good
Get creative by making healthier versions of your favorite treats. Swap out white rice for brown rice or quinoa, sour cream for plain Greek yogurt, or instead of deep frying, try baking. Go from naughty to nice with seasonal cookies that will satisfy your sweet tooth without affecting your health goals.
Also, avoiding sugary drinks is a lot easier when you have a flavorful mocktail to take its place. Non-alcoholic beverages can be both festive and delicious. If you’re a fan of eggnog, forgo whole milk and cream for a lighter base consisting of skim, almond, or coconut milk.
Eat Intuitively
The best way to navigate a holiday diet is by not dieting at all. Instead, try intuitive eating, a mindful approach to hunger that honors the body’s internal cues. It’s the basic concept of eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. When babies are born, they instinctively know when to feed and how much to consume. Yet, as they age, their eating habits change and are restructured to fit societal norms.
In most cultures, food is at the center of everything. Attending a party? Eat. Watching a movie? Eat. Visiting grandma? Eat a lot. It becomes routine. In some cases, you don’t eat because you’re hungry, you eat because you can. Also, casual snacking can be more of an emotional response than a biological one. A spike in sugar signals the release of dopamine, a pleasure-producing chemical that can be comforting when you’re sad, stressed, or even bored.
Listen to Your Body
Several elements work together to support and regulate hunger. The hormones ghrelin and leptin are responsible for increasing and decreasing appetite. While the protein Neuropeptide Y, which also manages feeding behavior, can stimulate specific cravings—such as carbohydrates. Due to the natural delay in the digestive process, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to acknowledge a full stomach.
So, before grabbing a second plate, assess your hunger with the following exercise:
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take three deep breaths.
  • Ask yourself: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=not hungry, 10=starving), how hungry are you?
Normal hunger fits within the 5-8 range. If you are at a 3 or 4, try drinking a tall glass of water. It’s a simple way to curb your appetite before your next meal. At an 8 or 9 but don’t have time for a full course? Enjoy a healthy snack instead. Try to refrain from eating at a 10. Ravishing hunger can lead to a binge episode. You want to avoid operating in extremes.
Mindful eating isn’t reserved for holidays or special occasions. It’s a healthy and beneficial practice that can serve you all year round.
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Photo credit: kirin_photo

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