Healthy Christmas Food Choices
OK, so you’ve been doing the 7-day holiday fitness challenge, right? If not, you can start now with a cardio day or upper-body day, and move on from there. These workouts are all limited to 15 minutes of high intensity, and you can squeeze these moves into the tiniest hotel room, guaranteed! You’ll feel better all day if you sneak in 15 minutes of exercise in the morning.
But we all know that exercise and nutrition go hand-in-hand when it comes to ultimate health and wellness. How do you manage nutrition during the time of year when all bets are off when it comes to healthy eating? The kitchen is full of frosting, treats are baking in the oven, and candied nuts are everywhere!
My philosophy about holiday feasting is here in the Thanksgiving post, if you want to explore my thoughts on having “plenty” in a 21st-century first-world country. But here are some more specific tips about incorporating healthy eating into celebration:
DO make merry, focus on fun, and eat with love and meaning. Making healthy food choices does not mean being ascetic and withdrawing from society during the holidays. Join in the festivities with an open heart! Attend holiday parties with gusto, and focus on the people, the memories, and the gratitude!
DON’T feel pressured, on the other hand, to eat something because it is a tradition or because a loved one made it. Food can be prepared with love, but food is not the same as love. If you truly feel uncomfortable eating something for health reasons, there are polite ways to decline. If someone is categorically upset about your choice, please know that that is not loving behavior on their part.
DO focus on feel-good foods to avoid blood-sugar spikes. How good do you really feel after eating certain foods, if you are honest with yourself? This is not about weight gain or being “strict” or “eating clean.” This is about maintaining a happy mood and avoiding unpleasant bloating and other side effects of helter-skelter, no-holds-barred holiday eating. Want the energy to play with your children or chat for hours with a long-lost cousin? Eat small, frequent meals that are rich in protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and whole grains, and skip fried foods and sugary snacking.
DON’T start a militant new diet the week of Christmas. When it actually comes to weight, many nutritionists advise seeking to maintain, not lose, weight over the holidays. If you have spent all of 2015 eating meat, don’t choose the most stressful, most food-oriented time of the year to suddenly go vegan (unless a doctor has recommended it). Focus instead on balanced choices in moderate portions. The best thing you could do, if you are concerned about holiday weight gain, is to avoid grazing on buffet spreads in between meals at holiday gatherings. As I like to say, “Make a plate, and step away.”
DO participate in shopping for, cooking, and preparing food for holiday gatherings. Cooking is empowering, because you have the power of choice when you start your meal at the grocery store. Reinvigorate traditional holiday meals by stocking up on ingredients for simple, high-fiber power sides like sautéed fresh string beans (skip the canned variety), quinoa-walnut-cranberry salad, and roasted garlicky cauliflower. Pairing simple turkey with these powerhouse vegetables makes for a healthy and indulgent-feeling meal without sacrificing health considerations.
DON’T impose unusual food choices on others, using a holiday meal as an opportunity to educate others about weight or nutrition. If you are typically attentive to your health and wellness (including a healthy weight), you may have a rarefied view of food choices. If you are hosting, invite others to participate by bringing sides, drinks, or desserts. If you are attending, bring enough of your menu item(s) to share, but remember that not everyone may choose your shredded root vegetable pancakes over the green bean casserole. You can make choices for yourself but not for other people.
DO remember that “rich food” is different from “junk food.” This is an important personal principle of eating for me. Generally, celebratory food is richer and higher in calories than what we normally eat. However, there is rich food (using ingredients like heavy cream), and then there is junk food (no nutritional value whatsoever). If you are typically a very healthy, lean eater, periodically eating rich food can have the counterintuitive benefit of revving up your metabolism. Junk food, on the other hand, creates blood sugar mood swings, irritates inflammation, and ultimately can sabotage your goal of attaining or maintaining a healthy weight.
DON’T let food choices send you into a panic over the holidays. If you have recently changed your diet by abstaining from gluten, alcohol, sugar, dairy or other common dietary irritants (or if you are recovering from an eating disorder), remember that you have the power of choice in every situation. Focus on self-care, meaningful experiences, and human connection, not the food. Get enough sleep. Continue to cultivate meaningful hobbies. Write holiday cards. Go for daily walks and get enough exercise. Spend time in the sunshine. Participate in the cooking. Seek out support.
The bottom line is:
Christmas includes food, but it’s not about food.
The holidays are a time to focus on enjoying connection, creating special memories, and fostering a spirit of gratitude and giving. Focus on meaning, short-circuit stress, and your food choices will follow suit!
Check back in tomorrow for a fantastic lower body workout that you can complete in only 15 minutes!