Five Tips for Surviving (and even Enjoying) The Holidays

The leaves are almost gone and the familiar crisp of autumn-turning-to-winter is in the air, signalling the most wonderful time of the year is upon us. Guess what's on my mind?

- pumpkin pie - fudge - party mix!!!! - green bean casserole - apple cider - sugar cookies - hot cocoa - mashed potatoes and gravy - chocolate-covered pretzels - homemade caramel corn - peppermint everything - chocolate crinkle cookies -

You know what I'm talking about. 

For those of us with a sweet tooth (or an urge to snack on things in front of us), this can be a treacherous time of year. I mean, I barely made it out of the grocery store alive after the Halloween candy sale (ahem, not saying that nothing "accidentally" fell into my cart). Up next are two of my favorite - not to mention the most delicious - holidays of the year.

 Gluten-free pies at Thanksgiving last year

Gluten-free pies at Thanksgiving last year

I mean, there is one holiday that is completely dedicated to eating with those you love. Seriously? It's like Thanksgiving's subtitle is Ann's Ideal Holiday.

But of course, for those of us who also prioritize our health, this time of the year brings certain challenges. I.e. fighting the urge to eat all the things. As such, I'd like to share with you a few of my personal strategies that I use to help find a balance between health and enjoyment of some of these favorite foods.

 Picking our our Charlie Brown Christmas tree from the pasture in the Sandhills

Picking our our Charlie Brown Christmas tree from the pasture in the Sandhills

 Building a snowman with brother Ray, Mom, and Aunt Sue

Building a snowman with brother Ray, Mom, and Aunt Sue

Strategy #1: Prioritize your favorite foods

It would be great if we could have it all, but then nothing would be special. It's like that story about the little boy who wished that it would be his birthday every day. He had so much fun for the first few days - all of the presents, parties, attention. After time, however, these things became routine - so routine, in fact, that he didn't even enjoy them any more.

You can't have everything you want. You just can't. So decide what you do want, and enjoy that!

For me, I'm going to skip the peanut brittle (it's yummy, but hurts my teeth) and go for the Chocolate Crinkles that my mother-in-law makes (um, yum). I'm not going to waste my time on store-bought peppermint sticks; instead I'm interested in a handful (okay, maybe two or three) of my father-in-law's homemade caramel corn (I definitely married into the right family).

 The spread at the first annual Thankschristmukkah, the most wonderful friend holiday of the year!

The spread at the first annual Thankschristmukkah, the most wonderful friend holiday of the year!

Strategy #2: Enjoy your favorite foods

Wait. I think you misheard me. I didn't say eat-as-much-as-you-want of your favorite foods. I said enjoy your favorite foods.

Mindless eating - when you're eating, but distracted by something else (like the TV, computer, or work) misses the point of the purpose of tasty treats. You get the most enjoyment out of the first three bites of your food. After each subsequent bite, that enjoyment diminishes a little. If you pay close attention to what you're eating, you may find that you don't need as much as you thought you did.

Here are some example of how to trade mindless eating for enjoyable eating:

  • Instead of having five pieces of fudge, take time to savor one
  • Serve yourself a bowl of that delicious party mix instead of munching from the communal bowl (otherwise the whole bowl will be gone before I know it!)
  • Instead of mindlessly sipping apple cider while playing cards with the family, drink a glass of hot tea
  • Share a cookie with your niece instead of eating the whole thing yourself (you can try two different kinds that way!)
 The cutest little pumpkin pie eater: my nephew, Jack

The cutest little pumpkin pie eater: my nephew, Jack

Strategy #3: Include something healthy on your plate

Just because there are lots of less-than-healthy delicacies on the menu doesn't mean that all of a sudden you hate all-things-healthy. In fact, balancing the heavy casseroles and sugar-laden desserts with some fresh fruits and vegetables can help you enjoy those things even more.

The easiest visual for balancing your plate is the MyPlate - the USDA's new version of the Food Pyramid. If you want an even healthier/low-carb/lower-calorie plate, switch the grain portion for additional veggies.

 Sledding with friends Caitlin and Brie

Sledding with friends Caitlin and Brie

Here are some practical tips for putting this strategy into action:

  1. If you're hosting the holiday meal, try making your traditional goodies (like green bean casserole) slightly healthier. If you leave out 1/2 stick of the usual 2 sticks of butter, nobody's going to notice. I like to search Google for "Healthy version of [insert fave food]" to find healthier recipe ideas.
  2. If you're not hosting the holiday meal, offer to bring something healthy. I often show up to dinner parties with a vegetable dish in hand (try Sautéed Brussels Sprouts or a yummy salad, for example). I'm often surprised at how popular the healthy dishes are; as it turns out, I must not be the only one trying to prioritize health.
  3. Before filling your plate, scope out the spread. Decide what looks good and prioritize your fave foods (see strategy #2).
  4. Our brains make us automatically take more of whatever you first put on your plate. So, to eat healthier without much extra thought, fill your plate in this order:
    1. Veggies
    2. Protein
    3. Healthy carbs (fruit, starchy veggies)

Strategy #4: Stay on track with your exercise plan

This is not punishment! I repeat: exercise is not punishment.

Our bodies were built to run. They were built to work and play and breathe deeply. If all you do over the holidays is sit and watch other people exercise (ahem, football), your body is not going to feel good.

I know you're not going to be perfect; I never run quite as far or fast as usual when I'm vacationing. But I do make it a point to do something. Get outside and play in the snow with the kiddos. Take a walk with the family. Do something crrrazy and look up a yoga video to try out with your sister-in-law. Your body and your confidence will feel so much better!

 Sledding races in the front yard of Smurthwaite at K-State - friends Shoffy, Amanda, Monica, and Caitlin

Sledding races in the front yard of Smurthwaite at K-State - friends Shoffy, Amanda, Monica, and Caitlin

Strategy #5: Relax.

C'mon. You're not going to be perfect this holiday season. You know why? Because nobody is perfect during the holiday season. That's why it only comes around once in a while.

So you just couldn't limit yourself to one piece of fudge? Don't worry about it. You gained a couple pounds this week? Don't fret. Make a plan, set a date to re-start, and get back on track. Life is too short to feel bad about yourself all the time.

 Thankschristmukkah 2012! (Please excuse the terrible picture in which we are all chewing)

Thankschristmukkah 2012! (Please excuse the terrible picture in which we are all chewing)

Living well and eating healthy is about learning to feed your body and your soul. Some days you'll be more on top of feeding your body good stuff, some days you'll lean more towards the soul food. That's okay! The most important thing is to pick yourself up and start back with your healthy habits so that 90% of the time you're eating well to fuel and care for your body.

See? Even dietitians love to eat. However, I don't have this all figured out; I often learn new strategies for healthy living from my friends, family, co-workers, and patients. What are some of your strategies to stay on track with health during the holidays?

 My dear friend and freshman roommate, Jessica (although I've always called her "Shoffy") and me in front of our "fireplace"

My dear friend and freshman roommate, Jessica (although I've always called her "Shoffy") and me in front of our "fireplace"

Happy holidays to you and yours, in every sense of the words. With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.