Staying Health-Centered During the Holidays

This is a guest post by Kelly Lee, MS, PN1. It was originally published at

The Holiday season means festive decor, seasonal music, and celebratory events galore! It also means that sugar-laden treats, extra opportunities for eating, and social commitments seem to appear out of nowhere. Participating in all of these things allows us opportunities for bonding and fun, but it can also become an overwhelming and out-of-control experience. If you want to enjoy the season without losing all focus on health, here are a few ways that you can practice being mindful during this time of year.

  1. Plan Ahead
    Are you invited to a friend’s dinner party? Or know there’s a work potluck in the morning? What about those festive donuts at church or the school cookie exchange? There are 38 days between Thanksgiving and New Years, and it wouldn’t be difficult to find a “special” event filled with goodies occurring on most, if not all, of them. Recognizing that holiday treats will be everywhere, all the time, can help you reframe them from being something special and rare to something that is ordinary and easy to come by. This helps remove the temptation and the impulse to “get it while you can!”  Prioritizing those events and foods that are truly special to you can help you avoid the rest and really enjoy the indulgences you do make!

  2. Party Smarter
    Once you decide on the events that are important to you (or the ones you absolutely can’t avoid), you can still be in control of your eating by trying some or all of the following:
    • Eat before you go. If you show up ravenous, you will most likely overeat or make decisions you later wish you hadn’t. Foods high in protein will keep you satisfied for longer.
    • If it’s a potluck, bring something that you know you will enjoy and feel good about eating. You might not be the only one there trying to eat well, and your deviled eggs or garden salad might just be greatly appreciated!
    • Commit to one plate, or limit variety. Take anything you’d like from the buffet, but don’t go back for seconds. Or, pick 2 or 3 foods to eat as much of as you’d like, but stick with only those foods. Eat what you do take slowly, don’t feel obligated to eat the things you don’t like, and stop when your body tells you it’s full. 

  3. Wait A Bit
    Do those Sugar cookies on the endcap look irresistible? Or are those biscuits at the party calling your name? Wait 15 minutes and see if you still want them. Walk to the other end of the store or into a different room, drink a glass of water, begin a conversation. Sometimes removing yourself from the temptation (either physically or temporally) can be enough to help you say no. If you decide after the waiting period you still want it, then you can indulge knowing that you made the choice, instead of the choice being made for you!

  4. Consider Alcohol
    Maybe food doesn’t tempt you, but there’s no way you’re turning down that spiked eggnog or extra glass of wassel. The same principles that apply to food can apply here. Bring a bottle of something that you know you can handle well and enjoy in moderation. Wait 15 minutes or more before refilling your glass and drink a cup of water in between each festive beverage. Stick to one type of alcohol instead of sampling a variety. 

  5. Keep Moving
    Keep your body healthy and your metabolism optimised by making physical activity a regular holiday priority. Strength train, walk your neighborhood to see the lights, time your workouts for before big meals. 

  6. Know Your Limits
    Holidays can be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many of us they can also be stressful and triggering. Busy schedules, extra commitments, the pressure of upholding traditions, and perhaps family dynamics can all lead to a need for increased coping, which is often filled by food. It’s ok to not be bursting with holiday joy, and you’re not a bad person for eating that donut because you just couldn’t deal with it anymore! As we enter the holiday season, consider practicing some introspection if you don’t already know your limits and common stressors. Explore additional healthy coping mechanisms, be ok with saying “No” to others, and above all, be kind to yourself!

  7. Be present and aware
    A useful reminder is that you are under no obligation to uphold traditions that don’t work for you. Decide what your priorities are regarding nutrition, stress, and family, and only participate in activities that help you meet those. Traditions don’t have to involve food, but if they do, choose them deliberately. Savor what you’ve chosen, and enjoy the full sensory experience.

  8. Don’t Start a Diet
    Maybe this one comes as a surprise, but beginning a diet just as we enter what is arguably the biggest “eating season” of the year is a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment. Diets are almost never sustainable, and trying to start one in the midst of increased stress and edible temptations can break even the strongest of iron wills. Instead, use this time to become more aware of your mindset, behaviors, and relationship with food. If you are looking for extra support in doing this, a nutrition coach can help you identify ways to work towards optimal health and maintain accountability,

From StrengthSpace, and our partner, ThinkWellNutrition, Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season!