While I was in college, a friend said to me, “I know a lot of dietitians/nutrition students, and they all basically eat whatever they want.” This is mostly true for me. With some caveats. Keep reading to learn what they are.
My strategy for holiday is eating is pretty similar to what I eat the rest of the time. Of course regardless of what you celebrate or don’t, eating is often a little different this time of year. There are more treats and sweets and traditional foods to enjoy, not just at home, but at work, school, and gatherings.
This is what I do for “healthy eating” over the holidays. It’s not a prescription – what works for me might not be what works for you – but maybe you might find a few ideas helpful. Or you’re just curious what a dietitian eats for Christmas. Whatever!
If you want to skip the rest of the article, it can be basically be summarized as:
Focus mostly on what I do eat, less on what I don’t
How do I do this?
I make time to feed myself.
I feel best when I eat on a pretty regular schedule.
During holidays, schedules might be a little different due to parties or days off or traveling. I might not have my same schedule of meals and snacks, but I try to avoid both constantly snacking and going long stretches of time without eating.
Constantly eating can make it difficult to distinguish true hunger and lead to overeating – or undereating if I never feel hungry enough for a meal!
Going long stretches without eating makes me either hangry, anxious, sad (which isn’t nice for anyone) or just so hungry that when I am able to eat it’s hard to make a good decision. It’s easier to overeat, or choose a less balanced meal, or just be overwhelmed and not want to eat anything!
I don’t eat at the exact times every day, but I try to avoid both extremes. This might mean having a snack before a late holiday dinner or making sure to eat breakfast even if I wake up late. Or making time to have a snack even if I have a busy day.
Just like I make sure to feed my dog every day, I make sure I feed myself consistently too.
I get most of my food groups at most meals, most days
So we’re on the same page, I’m thinking of the food groups as: fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grain or starchy foods.
Dairy foods/calcium-rich foods or healthy fats could be considered their own groups, but enough of my protein-rich foods are from dairy that I don’t think of it separately and I rarely eat healthy fats on their own – mainly they get cooked with or come with other food groups.
I try to get at least 3 out of 4 food groups at most meals. Normal meals and “holiday meals”. For example at Thanksgiving, we had asparagus and salad (veggies), cranberry sauce and apple crisp (fruits), turkey and meat stuffing (protein), and my favorite: stuffing, bread, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese (grains/starches) – all the food groups.
Getting all the food groups helps provide a variety of nutrients, promote satiety and is a positive way to promote “balance” without prohibiting or restricting foods. (As humans know, if we’re told we can’t have something, we want it more) If most of the time I get most food groups, I will avoid filling up only on sweets, for example because I have to make room for the other food groups.
I also know I feel better energy and digestion wise when I get a mix of foods with protein, healthy fats, fiber, etc.
Of course, I also try and choose options from from each group that I enjoy. So you won’t see me eating beets for my veggie serving or olives for my healthy fats because I don’t like those.
That leads me to…
I enjoy the foods of the season I enjoy
Some of these foods we only eat at certain times of year, so I take this time to enjoy it! For example, my grandma’s applesauce (click for recipe) or my family’s Italian stuffing or Ferrero Rocher. I don’t worry about eating a little more than I normally would. I enjoy these foods as part of the celebration.
The other side of this is that I feel free to leave foods I don’t really enjoy. Ham? Nah. Mashed potatoes? I’d rather have bread. Pecan pie? that’s a pass, I’ll take apple.
Of course if I go to your house and you serve me these foods, I will eat them to enjoy your hospitality, but if they’re on a buffet or at a potluck, I can leave em.
I choose the foods I really want so I can enjoy them without feeling too full.
Food gives us more than nutrients. It is often a way for us to gather together, to celebrate traditions, and to enjoy life! These things are important to our overall health and wellbeing!
Now again, these strategies work for me. They might not work for you. I thankfully don’t have any food allergies or intolerance, I don’t have to manage my blood sugar or blood pressure, so I do have a little more freedom to eat whatever I want.
But even with food restrictions, there is probably some room for at least some of your favorite foods. Talk to your friendly dietitian if you’d like guidance on how that might work for you 🙂
What holiday foods are you looking forward to eating?