The Holidays and Your Health

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It’s easy to put off our vow to eat healthier until the New Year. “I’ll just make it through Thanksgiving and Christmas and then worry about it,” we say to ourselves. The cultural current of expectation that runs rampant this time of year often yields a sense of powerlessness, making it easy to relinquish our sense of control over our food choices.

Wondering what you can do to fight the urge to abandon healthy eating during the holidays?

1. Have fun with healthy foods.

Holidays are a great time for festive food. While most recipes center on sugar, this need not be the case. Strawberries and homemade whipped cream make delicious Santa Berries. Squash and tomatoes can make a fun Thanksgiving decoration. Fresh fruit can be added to an apple and carrot base to make an enticing Christmas tree. The possibilities are endless! Pinterest is a great place to browse creative ideas for fun, healthy holiday foods. (See more of our favorite Christmas treats here.)

2. Don’t defend your choices.

It’s easy to apologize for watching what you eat during the holidays. Abstaining from sugar or highly processed foods goes against the cultural norm. This often makes others feel uncomfortable. Family members, co-workers, or friends may lash out with remarks that seem to require an explanation. Resist the temptation to engage. Do your best to steer the conversation away from food unless there is an honest curiosity. While there’s no need to force your choices on others, there is certainly no need to defend them either.

3. Don’t eat to make someone else happy.

Pressure from a relative or friend can make us feel like we “have” to eat it. While there may be times when this is a healthy relational decision, more often than not we’re trying to fill another’s emotional void rather than nourishing our own body. There are lots of ways to affirm a loved one. Focus on their appearance, their decorating, their talent in the kitchen. Find a way to reach out without compromising your health.

4. Bring food you can enjoy.

Offer to bring your favorite vegetable dish, casserole, or fruit bowl to a gathering. Most hosts are feeling the pressure to accommodate everyone’s preferences and may welcome the relief of knowing you’ll have something you enjoy. A holiday gathering is a great time to introduce others to whole food alternatives without forcing the issue.

5. Practice the Hara Hachi Bu principle.

Hara hachi bu is a practice associated with the people of Okinawa, Japan. Literally “stomach full to eight parts of ten,” the Okinawans eat until they fill approximately 80% of their stomach’s capacity. Holiday gatherings tend to encourage the opposite. Chew your food slowly, take small bites, and stop before you are full. Even if you’re eating food you typically don’t eat, this practice can help minimize the negative effects.

Being mindful of your food choices can go a long way toward keeping you sane and healthy this holiday season. Who knows, you may start the New Year healthier than ever!

For more thoughts on staying healthy during the holidays see the article "Better Food, Better Mood."