Health Tips for Holiday Feasts and Festivities

by: Danielle Ternyila

It’s about to become the most sugary time of year, and not just because of the sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. We all know with the holidays comes junk food, delicious treats, and too many side dishes. Losing weight, or maintaining, can be incredibly challenging for these reasons, as well as all the additional events and celebrations. Spending more time with family and friends often goes hand-in-hand with overindulging.

Since my weight loss journey began, I have held myself accountable even during the holidays. After a few years of giving it my all, I have a few lessons to share that can make your life easier and your plate lighter. Whether it is just making smarter decisions around the table or putting in some extra effort, your health can get through Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinners, and all the end-of-year celebrations unscathed (somewhat).

1. Pack It Up

The first rule of eating healthy out is to just bring your own food! It can feel really “extra,” but there are a number of smart ways to do this! I get it; why cook your own dinner if you’re going out to eat with your friends or family? It is, however, the easiest way to avoiding the extra calories and fats.

For smaller scale events with friends, I will pack myself my own meal if there are plans to eat dinner together or such. Yes, that means awkwardly walking into a party with my own Tupperware (I recommend glass for easy reheating in the microwave!) and eating my chicken, rice, and veggies while everyone else enjoys the big pot of pasta and garlic bread. Do I ever look back and regret not eating that pasta though? Nope!

Instead of bringing your dinner plate, you can also bring your own desserts! I have a problem with gluten, which is typically the main ingredient in most treats (brownies and cookies and cakes, oh my!). To avoid these temptations, I bring fruit with a dip most of the time. My go-to is pistachio dip, and by bringing this or some gluten-free cookies along, I’m not only a great guest, but I’m doing great at prioritizing my health too!

2. Bake Smart

The internet is a beautiful thing; it gives you access to some incredible recipes, some thousands or millions of them, that is! Search for healthy recipes, and you will find plenty to scroll through. However, there are some simple swaps you can do with most recipes to make it healthier without having to reinvent the wheel.

Have a cookie recipe you just love? Swap the flour for some almond flour. Consider replacing eggs with apple sauce in a recipe to lower cholesterol, fat, and sugar. Use dark chocolate instead of milk or white, and research sugar alternatives; stevia, for one, is a natural sweetener without all the calories, emphasis on natural!

3. Greek Yogurt Is The New Cauliflower

This is the most genius food to hit supermarkets, if you ask me! I always have some in my fridge because I use it regularly, and not to just eat with a spoon. I’ll freeze my favorite flavors for a yogurt-based ice cream, or I’ll scoop a dollop onto my tacos to act as sour cream. It is easy to substitute for many things, and when you’re using the right flavors, you will never taste the difference.

Did you know? You can use Greek yogurt to replace butter, sour cream, heavy cream, and mayonnaise in most recipes? Paired with the right food, you would never notice the difference. It’s like cauliflower – we’ve replaced pizza crusts, chicken nuggets, and even pasta with this super healthy alternative that takes flavor of whatever is mixed with it. Greek yogurt is just as versatile!

I have swapped out some key ingredients for Greek yogurt and served it to friends and family. I’ve replaced the sour cream with plain non-fat Greek yogurt without them knowing the wiser, used it in chicken salad to replace the mayo, and even baked it into desserts; this should be a whole food group of its own with all the possibilities that come with it. My favorite recipe lately is to use it for 2-ingredient bagels! (All it takes is Greek yogurt and self-rising flour, or a gluten-free alternative flour with yeast!)

4. Talk Yourself Up

This sounds superficial, but there’s a method to the madness. Tell your family and friends about your diet, your journey, your successes and failures. Brag about your health accomplishments as much as you brag about your child doing something hard. Make it known that you are conquering your health goals. When you do, you’ll be much less tempted to indulge because everyone will be watching you; you told them all you’re behaving on your diet, so why would you want to be caught cheating an hour later?

It’s also really nice to have a support system behind you, which is why you should be telling everyone about your journey, or your closest family and friends at the very least. The more people you tell, the more there are to hold you accountable. Even if they don’t say anything, you will think twice about picking up an extra slice of pie because you don’t want to let them down now either since telling them your big plans.

5. Make Realistic Plates

If your holidays are anything like mine, you and your 40 closest family members will be jumping in line to wait for all the delicious food, and you all will fill your plates to the brim! Be realistic. You only need so much food for 1 meal, so it’s super easy to overindulge this time of year, especially after waiting so long on that line to finally get in front of the stuffing and mac-n-cheese!

When I finally get here, I make a realistic plate for myself; I don’t put anything on it that I know I won’t enjoy; I avoid “empty calories”, which is what I call foods that don’t provide any real nutritional-value. At my holiday parties, that’s usually the dinner rolls, pasta, fried mozzarella sticks, and all that deliciousness. Next, I focus on vegetables and meats and fill my plate with those first, then I’ll see how full my plate is before I add anything else. I stick away from anything fried or coated in cheese, and I eat it all slowly once I sit down.

Why eat slow? Your body can’t break down food as fast as you’re chewing it down, and it hardly gives you the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate your meal. You should also give yourself realistic time between helpings, too! Going back for seconds? Give your body 20 minutes to digest what you just ate first because by then, you might already be full! We tend to eat faster than our stomachs, and that leads to overeating.

6. Get Active First

I don’t regret any of the Christmas or Thanksgiving days that I started in the gym, as much as you think you might. Some gyms have limited morning hours to plan around, but even if you just go for a jog in your neighborhood before the festivities or take your dog to the park for a bit, you’ll feel great, you’ll feel strong, and you will not feel weak when the treats come out.

I recommend getting active before you celebrate for several reasons. You’re going to feel happier, lighter, and more confident by working in a sweat before the day begins. Exercise boosts your metabolism, so you can burn more calories during the day. It enhances your self discipline, so you really are more likely to stay strong against grandma’s cookies. It sets the tone for a healthier day!

More than that, a 30-60 minute workout is sure to give you more energy throughout the day, which is never bad on a busy holiday! Regulate your hormones and appetite with a little activity. That’s only 2‐3% of your day! It is too easy.

7. Love Yourself First

All-in-all it is most important to put yourself and your health first, but it’s just as important, if not more, to love and forgive yourself. We all mess up. No one is perfect, and if you slip up, eat bad, or overindulge on your Halloween candy and turkey dinner, remember you are human. Tomorrow is always a new day to begin again!

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