December 21, 2023

5 Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating Habits: Balancing Indulgence and Nutrition for Optimal Health

by Lauren Hoover, MS RD

As we enter another holiday season, many people find it challenging to navigate the delicate balance between enjoying festive merriment and staying committed to health maintenance goals. While each person has a different relationship with food, the pressure around what we should and shouldn’t be eating can create unwarranted stress during the holiday season.

Healthy holiday eating can particularly be challenging in the workplace. Busy professionals are often surrounded by desserts and treats, and office holiday parties can also be difficult food environments. Between the cookies, gingerbread houses, candy canes, and pies lingering about, holiday treats can be tempting. (In fact, studies show that the change in food environment this time of year is associated with excess energy intake and weight gain). 

The pressure to remain faithful to your healthy eating habits during this season tends to add undue stress if not equipped with the right strategies and support. 

You shouldn’t have to deprive yourself of holiday treats to maintain your health during the holidays. Excessive dietary restriction supports unhealthy dieting practices and can lead to feelings of guilt when indulgences inevitably occur. Instead, prioritize balance and moderation when it comes to fueling your body, and even consider enlisting help from a nutrition professional. Our registered dietitians provide you with personalized guidance to help you make informed choices without sacrificing the joy of festive meals with loved ones. 

We’ve assembled a few nutrition tips to help you strike a balance between indulging in your favorite holiday foods and keeping your health maintenance goals in mind. Read on to learn more!

1. Incorporate a Balanced and Nutritious Breakfast to Kick Your Holidays Off

As the kickstart of your metabolism, breakfast helps you start your day off on the right foot. Try to focus on including nutrient-dense foods, such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. The balance of food groups will give you energy and keep you satiated all morning. Whether it’s eggs with whole wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, or a green protein smoothie, aim to consistently incorporate a balanced breakfast meal this holiday season. Try out these festive recipes for inspiration.

2. Stay Active to Get Energized and Feel Good — Not to “Work Off” a Holiday Meal

Consistent physical activity is a fantastic stress reliever for professionals who spend most of their time in an office. Implementing even light to moderate exercise will help you stay energized throughout the holiday season and help you stay committed to your health maintenance goals.

If you are new to exercise or don’t have an established fitness routine, try these simple approaches:

  • Take a festive light walk: Tour your favorite holiday light displays with your family by foot instead of by car. 
  • Incorporate “activity snacks”: If you don’t have time for extensive workouts, break them up into shorter, ~5-10 minute spurts of movement.
  • Use movie time as fitness time: While enjoying a holiday classic, challenge yourself to a few sit-ups, squats, or push-ups.  
  • Have fun in the snow: If there’s snow on the ground, try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or even simply shoveling snow.

3. Enjoy Your Favorite Foods Without Judgment

According to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans, 69% of respondents judge their partner for eating “guilty pleasure” foods. Added judgment (from yourself or a family member) feeds feelings of shame and leads to negative emotions around food. The pressure around what we should and shouldn’t be eating can be overwhelming during an already stressful time of the year. Instead, practice moderation and intentionality to find balance and to preserve your relationship with food. 

Contrary to popular belief, healthy weight loss (or weight maintenance) and holiday celebrations can happily coexist. Celebrating the holidays doesn’t mean abandoning your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to explore new mindfulness strategies. This holiday season, take a moment to ask yourself what you really want and what really tastes good to you on that particular day. Sometimes you may want a big salad with crunchy vegetables and sometimes you may crave a slice of homemade apple pie. Another great practice of intention is to skip the foods you feel indifferent about. 

It might feel tempting to make healthier versions of your favorite holiday dishes. While we generally support getting creative in the kitchen and increasing nutrient density in meals, sometimes trying to “fix” these more indulgent meals can leave you feeling unsatisfied with the result. Instead, try to prioritize your favorite dishes, eat slowly, and enjoy mindfully. This practice will leave you feeling satisfied at the end of the day without resorting to restrictive behaviors. 

4. Take The Focus Away From Just The Holiday Food 

This holiday season, it’s essential to remember what you are celebrating and appreciate the people you are celebrating with. It can be refreshing to focus less on food and instead, reframe your enjoyment on the more meaningful and long-term aspects of the holidays. 

The true essence of the holidays is found in creating cherished memories and strengthening bonds. Engage in activities that aren’t centered on food. This can include meaningful conversations, games, or festive traditions. 

Redirecting your attention toward the spirit of the season nurtures a more profound sense of joy and fulfillment. By emphasizing the emotional and relational aspects of celebrations you not only diminish the pressure associated with food but also cultivate a fulfilling holiday experience. 

5. Re-Establish Your Routine As Soon As the Holidays Are Over

As the holidays wind down and festive cheer fades away, it’s helpful to shift gears quickly and re-establish your health maintenance routine. Create some motivating New Year’s resolutions ahead of time; set a clear plan to return to your usual healthy habits.

Here are some tips to make the transition smoother:

  • Gradually reintroduce: Instead of making drastic changes, ease back into your routine. For example, start by incorporating healthier meal choices, and then gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts. This will allow your body to adjust without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Start with hydration: Increasing your water intake is a simple and manageable habit that can make you feel more energized and help support optimal digestion.
  • Plan your meals: Prepare a well-balanced meal plan for the upcoming weeks. Focus on incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates. Having a plan in place makes it easier to stay consistent during busy weeks.
  • Schedule regular physical activity: Dedicate time blocks for exercise in your schedule. Whether it’s hitting the gym, going for a run, or joining a fitness class, prioritizing physical activity will help you re-establish a fitness routine and keep you feeling energized.

How Chicagoland Professionals Can Stay Healthy During the Holidays

Let’s be honest: the bitter cold of Illinois winters can put a damper on healthy habits. The cold weather can often make it more difficult to get outside, exercise, and stay focused on weight loss and healthy eating. 

At SHIFT, we are a group of passionate and committed experts who believe in a more intelligent, more effective approach to delivering personalized care and helping people build health in the greater Chicago, Illinois area. We’re here to help guide you through a festive season while maintaining a holistic approach to well-being.

Ready to learn more about how our team can help you achieve balance this holiday season?

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