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How to eat healthy during the holidays

Young woman prepares a healthy meal at home

With Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas and Hanukkah dinners, eating well during the holidays can be difficult. Erica K. Weinandy, Registered Dietitian, explains why that is and ways you can make it easier.

“Healthy eating is a balance of eating regularly throughout the day and making colorful choices,” says Weinandy. This is a lifestyle, not a diet. And consistency and variety are key to healthy eating.

Eating regularly helps you avoid binging, or eating too much food at once. And colorful foods, such as vegetables and fruits, add nutrients and vitamins to your intake. These small actions can be incorporated in every meal and snack.

“Is a sandwich just meat and bread? Or are we adding spinach and romaine lettuce? We can eat baby carrots instead of chips, and add green beans or broccoli to a pasta dish,” Weinandy suggests. “Giving ourselves a bit of color provides nutrition we may be missing.”

While these changes seem simple, eating healthily during the holidays can be tough. First, there are many holiday-themed foods that tend to be sweeter and heavier. Additionally, the holidays bring higher stress levels. “When people are stressed, they go to comforting foods that highlight pleasure signals in the brain.”  This combination can make eating healthy incredibly hard during the holiday season.

What can you do to eat well through the holidays?

“Make the holidays about something other than food,” Weinandy says. Use extra time off of work or at home to read a book, get back into an old hobby or explore a new one. “We give power to food, but the power should be around celebrating the holidays.”

While refocusing on the holidays, it’s important to not restrict yourself from eating certain things. Restriction can lead to unhealthy eating habits, like binge eating or avoidance, or poor relationships with food. Instead, if you’re not making the healthiest choices all the time, don’t feel guilty. Use those moments as growth opportunities.

“Recognize and learn from those experiences. Set an intention to do one thing differently next time,” says Weinandy. That could be skipping fries with your next burger, or eating a lighter breakfast sandwich instead of pancakes.

Other helpful tips to eat well during the holidays

  • Trim your portions. Use smaller plates and cut your food into smaller pieces. Instead of snacking out of the bag or eating carry-out from the box, put some in a small bowl and put the rest away.
  • Drink more water! This helps you fill up and also flushes out other waste.
  • Eat consistently, starting with a good breakfast. If you wait to eat until later in the day, you’re hungrier and more likely to overeat. Instead, opt for healthy, balanced breakfasts, meals and small snacks at regular times throughout the day.
  • Give yourself a “flex day” to eat your favorite treat. Use these tips to avoid overdoing it, but allow yourself the space to enjoy the foods you love.

These strategies can be used year-round, too! Additionally, if you need extra support to eat well – for weight maintenance, disease management or healthy living – Weinandy provides nutrition counseling. This service doesn’t require a referral and is open to the community.