When it comes to the Holidays, we all want to be able to relax and enjoy time with family, friends, and co-workers. It is true that the Holidays are about more than our favorite special food and beverage indulgences, but it is also not realistic to think we need to avoid our favorite splurges entirely.
Most of us end up with more than enough parties and gatherings to satisfy those Holiday cravings, and that's where it can often get tricky. If we aren't mindful about our choices, by the time New Years rolls around, we could find ourselves completely derailed from healthy habits and behaviors.
Here are some helpful tips for navigating the Holidays gatherings that will hopefully afford you a sense of control and balance.
1. Know What Is "Worth It"
Think back though the gatherings and activities of years past and learn from previous choices and outcomes. Remember what was truly worth the indulgence and what you can do without. You'll be able to make decisions more easily without feeling like you are missing out.
2. Come Prepared
This is helpful for all of us, but especially important for those with food allergies, medical conditions, or sensitive GI systems. For any gathering that I am attending where I may be unsure of the menu, I always come with a few items in my purse. (I usually have a protein bar and some nuts in every bag I carry anyway, but these times are even more important!) With something on hand, I can enjoy the time there without getting uncomfortably hungry if it ends up that there is not much to choose from that I want to eat (or if there is not much which I know will agree with my stomach).
3. Navigating Portions and Second Helpings
I like to get one plate with small portions of my known favorite things, and then try 1-2 bites of things that look interesting. Research has shown that it is usually the first few bites of anything is the most satisfying anyways, so this is one more good reason to start with smaller portions. If there is anything I really enjoyed enough to go back for, and if I am still hungry enough that I want seconds, I then go back for a little more of what I still want.
4. Don't Be Afraid To Say "No Thank You"
Whether it is to something you are offered during dinner or to leftovers, there are graceful ways to avoid the need to eat or take home something you don't want. If you are offered a food that isn't "worth it," but are afraid to hurt someone's feelings, there are a few methods you can use.
First, you could excuse yourself from a helping "on this plate" and let the host/server know that you will come back for a second pass. You don't ever have to lie, but just say something like "I think I'm good for this trip." or "I don't want to overload on my first plate." Chances are the person you are afraid of disappointing or offending isn't paying as much attention as you think and is simply trying to be a good host. If you know you can't say no to a specific person who might sincerely be hurt, take a very small amount and plan to adjust a few items on your plate so that it isn't obvious if you didn't eat it.
As for the offers of leftovers... if you don't want to take a large amount of leftovers (or any amount of specific kinds of leftovers) so as to avoid temptation, there are several ways to navigate this as well. First, if you are concerned about offending the person who made the item, and it is something you would like, you can always take a serving home with you and freeze it for later. If it isn't something you want and you know there is a family member who would like more than one to-go serving, you can discreetly offer them your portion. Another option to take the leftovers and give them away to someone in need or who might not get a family meal. You can also simply just take them with you and discard them once home. I know it may seem like a waste to toss good food, but if you know it will hurt someone's feeling to not take the food and you are making the other person feel good, it isn't the end of the world. Chances are they are trying to pass the food to you so they don't eat it all. Note: Only choose this option if you trust yourself to follow through on discarding it!
5. Plan In Advance
As much as is possible, have a game plan for events. For example, if you know you are going to an event with your favorite must-have dessert, be sure to be mindful of the appetizer, meal, and drinks. Save room to savor the dessert without any guilt. If you know you are going to an event with calorie laden beverages (soda, punch, eggnog, cocoa, cocktails, etc.), decide ahead of time what is appropriate for you and stick to it. Also, be extra mindful of what you eat. It can be helpful to decrease carbs so you then replace them with the beverage you choose. Remember that alcohol (if you choose to partake) will often negatively impact your food choices.
Make healthy choices on the day leading up to the event. Eat like you would any other time and don't deprive yourself in an effort to compensate. Get some form of movement in if possible, but don't stress yourself out if the day is too jam-packed. I try to get a workout in if it is possible, because I feel better when I do, but if it means getting inadequate rest or running short on time to prepare, it isn't worth the stress. Holidays are about relaxing, not stressing!
6. Don't Make Decisions Based On Fear of Missing Out
If you truly want something, partake. However, don't make the mistake of indulging in something just because you can "only have it once a year." I understand that certain recipes are reserved for certain Holiday events, but if you really want something another time, you can make it whenever the urge strikes! Too often in the past I found myself falling victim to the thought that I have to eat it now before I miss the opportunity. This is not a good way to make decisions. The truth is that if I really want it some other time, I will be able to get it or make it.
When there are several things I really would like and I know I don't need to indulge in them all, I will take a serving of one thing or smaller servings of 2 things. Then I take a serving of the other things home. Instead of eating some of everything all at the same time, I can save some for another day or freeze it for later. Again, it is about balance, not deprivation. This method works for me because I keeps me from indulging in more than will make me satisfied and prevents me from ending up uncomfortably full. My biggest weakness is usually desserts, but this strategy works for other things too!
7. Get Right Back to Routine
Whether you stick to your plans or not at an event, the most important thing is to get right back to your usual routine. Don't wait until Monday. Depending on what time of day your gathering was, go back to your healthy habits that same evening or the very next day. Prioritize protein, nutrient dense foods, water, and movement. There is no need to feel guilty about a special occasion!