We've made it through Thanksgiving and the holiday season is in full swing. Sweet treats are everywhere, the fridge is full of leftovers, and holiday parties offer tempting foods for the "special occasion."
When it's a month of "special occasions," it starts to add up. You may already be thinking of Jan 1 and the looming resolutions you'll have to make to compensate for the month of December. At this point it may feel like the only options are willpower or weight gain.
Don't worry, I'm not going to go perfectionist health coach on you and tell you to step away from the homemade goodies. I, too, make exceptions during the season and eat foods I typically avoid (a little dairy, a little egg, quite a bit more sugar...)
Is it possible to enjoy these special exceptions without completely derailing our health? Can we enjoy ourselves without paying a high price? YES WE CAN! Read on for my "secrets."
1. Listen to your body, not just your taste buds. We often are so caught up in the joy, the chaos, and the celebrations that we completely stop tuning into ourselves and our needs. Take a second here and there to check in with how you're feeling and make sure you're being mindful about your body. If you need a way to remember, promise yourself you'll take a moment to be self-aware every time you go to the bathroom to pee (we all have our little tricks...). If you're full and bloated, stop eating. If you feel parched or have a headache, get a glass of water. If your back is hurting, take a moment to stretch your hamstrings. Rather than mindlessly grabbing a second or third piece of cake, stop a moment and think about whether or not you ACTUALLY want it.
2. Savor your food. Be mindful while eating so you fully appreciate it. Rather than inhale your dessert, appreciate it completely: the way it looks, the smell as your bring it to your mouth, the texture changes as you chew and the delicious aftertaste. Think about who made it for you, or the work you put into it yourself. It's far better to truly enjoy one piece than to mindlessly consume two (and weighs less heavily on the scale).
3. Know which food choices are your rules and which are your guidelines. If you typically avoid gluten because it aggravates your arthritis, you may decide a holiday meal is your exception for the year. You know you'll pay the price the next day, but it may be worth it. That means for you, gluten is a guideline and you can consciously choose to eat it on special occasions. If you avoid gluten because you have Celiac disease, or because it makes you miserably ill for a week, then avoiding gluten is a rule. That means no exceptions, no "just one bites." You'll need to either let the host know or bring something for yourself. For me, gluten and sorghum are rules (absolutely never ever), but dairy, eggs, and fodmaps are guidelines. My grandmother's Wigilia (Christmas Eve) dinner is worth a little bloating, brain fog, and acne for a day or two. I think it's perfectly okay to bend the guidelines, and it can help us keep a healthy relationship with food (and the cooks!)
3. Never say no the first time to something you want*, but skip the seconds (and mind your portion sizes). This takes the pressure off of your willpower and you don't have to feel guilty about enjoying something you want and appreciate, but keeps you from overdoing it. This does not mean take a giant first helping. Portion control is a far wiser path to keeping the pounds off than attempting self-denial (which just feels harsh on the holidays, don't you think?) *As long as it isn't one of your "rules." As much as I may want a piece of sourdough toast, that's never okay for me.
4. Think of alcohol as dessert, and try to choose one or the other. Alcohol = sugar, so if you'd like a drink, pass the dessert. If you do choose the drink, drink as mindfully as you eat (see above). Make it a good drink, not a terrible well spirit with a splash of soda. Savor it, sip on it, make it last. Don't overdo it: a nice holiday buzz is one thing, getting sick at your in-laws in quite another. If you want a refresher on what is best to drink, check out the blog post on alcohol from May. Bourbon and eggnog definitely counts as dessert, in case you had any doubts.
5. Stay off the scale from now until the New Year. It won't do you any favors to know the number. Make sure your holiday outfit still fits; other than that, embrace the fact that most of us don't have to wear swimsuits this time of year. In the end a pound or two isn't going to derail you, as long as you stick with your regular healthy eating habits when you aren't at celebrations and make sure the "exceptions" don't trail off into 2015, you'll be back to where you were in no time at all.
And finally, remember what's important. Enjoying yourself and the company of others is really what these gatherings are about; the food is secondary. Enjoy the food, by all means, just be sure you don't get so lost in over-eating or over-drinking that you end up feeling uncomfortable and missing out on the fun.