The holidays can be an overwhelming and intimidating time for those on a diet and trying to keep from derailing progress made. There is a plethora of calorie dense foods around, an excess of sugary sweets, and carb bombs as far as the eye can see.
So how do we enjoy the holidays and keep on track? Or, how do we “eat our cake and have it too?”
Keep in mind that a balanced and healthy lifestyle goes beyond our nutritional choices. Holidays are an opportunity to spend time with the people you care about. The last thing you want to do is add additional stress to the mix. It can be easy to alienate family or friends or to unintentionally guilt them if you make too big of a deal over food. Often, openly communicating your goals and desire to stay within them may help others to better understand why you may choose to eat less or are excluding certain things.
Recommendations to not only survive the holidays, but to enjoy them while honoring your self-defined nutritional goals:
- Portion Control
a. First fill your plate with veggies and options higher in protein. This may sound obvious but heading towards dessert first isn’t in your best interest. The less room you have for the calorie dense foods, the better.
- Prepare Beforehand
a. While I don’t recommend working out to make up for over-consumption of foods, it would be wise to seek ways to get in extra activity the day of. Whether this is a morning workout or walk, it can help by adding to total caloric burn for the day.
b. Decrease macro numbers for the days leading up to or after a holiday meal. This will create a “caloric buffer” and allow you to eat more calories on the day. Think of it like borrowing calories from the other days and lending them to the holiday (Thanksgiving or Christmas). Overall calorie consumption for the week is of prime importance, and this will provide more flexibility on those holiday meals.
c. Eat smaller meals and focus on protein for breakfast prior to heading off for holiday celebrations. Protein goals are often the most difficult to fulfill when eating at parties. One of my favorite strategies is to implement a protein-sparing modified fast. Here is an example regarding Thanksgiving:
- 8 am – Have a low-calorie, high protein breakfast. This could include egg whites, 1-2 scoops of protein powder and a piece of fruit, or even a parfait (Greek Yogurt, 1 scoop of protein, and frozen berries).
- 12 pm – Chicken Breast and Vegetables
- 2 or 3 pm – Thanksgiving Meal
- Tracking Foods
a. If anything, you will want to over-estimate servings when tracked. With the variance in food preparation, and not weighing foods (DO NOT bring a scale), it is a best practice to estimate on the high side when tracking foods.
b. Take a quick picture of your plate to enter in amounts later if desired. This way you aren’t sitting at the table and performing / entering calculations. This goes back to keeping in line with your goals, but not alienating those around you.
- Portion Control
There is a very good chance your weight will spike after a holiday. People mistake weight gain on the scale for fat gain. But the increase you see on the scale after a day of heavy eating is due to a combination of increases in glycogen, water, salt, and carrying more food in your stomach. If you know that scale fluctuations are a mental roadblock for you, simply do not weigh yourself for the remainder of the week. This will be enough time for your weight to drop back to normal.
A large part of successful weight loss is maintaining that loss after the diet ends. And in order to do that, you need to understand that events, parties, special occasions, etc. are bound to happen. While it is admirable to stay committed to your goals, simply do your best to stay on track but remember the significance of holidays. Enjoy the time to share with friends and family and the making of memories. If things do get out of hand nutritionally, don’t beat yourself up over it. Approach tomorrow as a new day and get right back where you left off pushing towards goals. Accepting this reality and learning how to navigate these situations will mean less anxiety around food and enjoying these moments with your loved ones; and, a leaner, healthier body and mind.