Why Healthy Eating Is So Hard During The Holidays (And How To Overcome The Downward Spiral)

red christmas tree ornamentsWritten By Becki Andrus

Let’s face it, everyone goes into the holiday season knowing that they are going to “blow-it” on their diet. It seems that our mentality has shifted… December is viewed as a month of indulgence, and then everyone sets aspiring New Years resolutions to try to lose those extra 10 pounds in January.

And how many people are able to successfully stick with their healthy eating plans in January? (And lose the weight from the holidays?)

Very few.

But, don’t despair– because I understand how hard it can be to eat healthy in December. So, I’m writing this blog post to help encourage and inspire you to have a healthier holiday lifestyle.

Even if you start the holiday season with the best of intentions to eat healthy, it is common for people to slip-up with their eating habits. Here’s why:

Problem: Holidays Are Social, And Social Events Almost Always Include Unhealthy Food
The calendar is always packed with social events to attend: work parties, school parties, church events, family get-togethers, etc. And these activities almost always center around food.

The food choices at these events are usually very rich and laden with unhealthy ingredients, fat, sugar, and a ridiculous amount of calories. Many of these foods are very nutrient-lacking… so even though you are eating a lot, your body is not getting the nutrition that it needs for optimal health.

Our society has put so much emphasis on the fact that food is an integral part of being social, so not joining in on the food festivities is going to leave you out in the cold.

Solution: Find Healthier Options At The Party

There are almost always a few good food choices available at the parties… and there are a few specific items that you can eat. For example:

  • At a dinner event, fill your plate with a generous serving of the salad and the cooked vegetable side dish. Take smaller servings of the meat and other unhealthy side dishes. Only take a bit or two of dessert.
  • Eat before you go to a party. Even though there will be food at the party, snack on some raw fruit or vegetables before you leave. Filling your stomach with healthy food first will help you to avoid over-eating when the unhealthy foods are so readily available.
  • Parties almost always have finger foods, focus on the natural foods as much as possible. Instead of grabbing a handful of chocolates or sweets, choose to snack on the holiday mixed nuts that are often available. Or enjoy the raw vegetables available on the relish tray.
  • If it is a family/friend event, offer to bring some food. I often bring a vegetable tray with dip or a salad, which ensures that I will have some nutrient-dense foods to eat while I am enjoying the time with the family.

Problem: Food = Gifts
Every year you will receive at least a few gifts that are food. Neighbors bring around plates of holiday treats, shopping malls sell gift baskets of holiday food items such as candy or sausages, and employers often cater in nice meals for their employees.

The problem that many people face is that they feel obligated to eat the food since it was a gift.

Solution: Don’t Feel Obligated To Eat It

Offer your gratitude for the thoughtful gift, taste it (if you want, but be sure to keep it to a VERY minimal serving), and then throw away the rest of the unhealthy food.

I know, it sounds wasteful to throw away “perfectly good” food. But, it will not provide your body any value! Don’t waste your calorie intake by eating food out of guilt or obligation. It’s not worth it!

Once the food has been given to you as a gift, I assure you that your friend/family/neighbor will not follow up to make sure that you ate every last bite. So, after they have left, drop it in the garbage so that you are not tempted to eat the plate of cookies for dinner.

When I receive food as a gift, I am always very grateful for the thoughtfulness of the gift and I offer my sincere thanks for the gift. If it is a homemade treat, I will usually taste it (and enjoy that taste) because I am very appreciative of the effort they put into preparing the food… and I will let them know how delicious it was (because holiday treats are ALWAYS delicious!).

And after I have had my taste and they have gone home, I will throw away the rest of the unhealthy treats. I do not consider this rude or unkind, because I tasted it and I am choosing my health over guilt. They are none-the-wiser and I am still able to feel great because I can focus my eating on healthy, whole foods instead of holiday junk food.

(And make sure to NEVER tell them what you did. This is our little secret!) 😉

Problem: The Holiday Season Is Stressful, Which Causes You To Stress-Eat
The holiday season is all about enjoying family and friends, remembering what we are thankful for, and giving gifts to others. But, in recent years these traditions have begun to snowball, and we have found ourselves in a position of chaos throughout the month.

Between shopping, decorating, parties, Christmas card writing, and social events we have little time to do anything else.

And to add to the stress of a busy calendar, many people experience financial stress as they try to pay for all of the added expenses that occur during the holidays.

Solution: Step Back And Determine Your Priorities

You can control your attitude and stress levels by consciously choosing what you will focus your energy on. Instead of stressing yourself out about the upcoming family party with your crazy in-laws, focus on the fact that it will be fun to chat with Uncle Tom or how much you will enjoy looking at the Christmas lights as you drive home.

Stepping out of the “hustle and bustle” focus of the holiday events will allow you to enjoy the little moments that really make the holidays worthwhile.

Also, don’t be obligated into attending events that aren’t going to add value to your life. Remember, that it’s not the end of the world if you miss a neighbor’s party because you needed some time to wrap presents instead. Choose your priorities and focus on what matters most.

By the way, here’s a great guide to help you appreciate the holiday season more and lower your stress levels. I would highly recommend taking a moment to read through this guide, and then implement some of the suggestions into your lifestyle this holiday season.

Problem: You Are Too Busy To Cook Healthy Foods
Many people don’t have as much time to cook because they are busy rushing around to attend parties, getting the shopping done, shuttling the kids to-and-from their events, and trying to keep up with everything at home. So, meal times often default to the easy solutions: frozen dinners, take-out, and whatever can be scrounged out of the fridge or cupboards.

Or, heaven forbid, you didn’t eat and find yourself so hungry that you end up eating the cookies for dinner because they neighbor just dropped them off and they smelled amazing!

Solution: Plan Ahead And Make Time

Feeding your body healthy, whole foods is very important—especially during the busy holiday season! If you are eating well, you will have more energy and you will be less likely to get sick because your body will be receiving great nutrition.

So, schedule in some time for meal preparation. Sometimes I will even plan ahead and cook extra food during November to keep in the freezer, then I can simply pull out the leftover soup (or whatever is in there) for dinner. Within a matter of minutes, the freezer meal can be heated and ready to go.

Also, make sure that you always have health food available in the house. Keeping your fridge stocked with nutritious meal ingredients and snacks will help you to succeed with your eating plan.

Following these steps will help you to be a proactive eater & avoid the reactive eating that often occurs during the holiday season.

Problem: You Will Feel Bad If You Don’t Get To Enjoy Your Favorite Holiday Foods
Many traditions and fond holiday memories are based on fun holiday foods and treats. Every family has their favorites—Grandma’s gingerbread cookies, waffles for breakfast Christmas morning, the yummy hand-dipped chocolates that you make together as a family, etc.

The holidays wouldn’t be fun without these traditions and foods that you enjoy every year, right?

Solution: Find Healthier Alternatives To Your Traditional Favorite Foods

There are always ways to make recipes a little more healthy, try substituting unhealthy ingredients for healthier options. For example, use honey instead of sugar, coconut oil instead of butter, add in some extra veggies, etc.

If you need some easy to follow, traditional holiday recipes, check out my holiday recipe collection for instant access to 48 whole foods based holiday recipes.

Also, remember that you can still make the “unhealthy” holiday treats, but you don’t have to overindulge in them. Have a taste or a small serving of your favorite holiday food, but don’t eat the entire plate!

For example, my family always enjoys a holiday cheese ball and crackers. So, when I host a party I will have the cheese ball available, but I also provide healthy salads, a veggie tray, fruit, etc. Because there are plenty of healthy options available, I am able to have a taste of the cheese ball, and focus most of my eating around the healthier options.

Following these steps can help you to enjoy the holiday season without harming your health or gaining weight. Remember, that there is a balance in all things… don’t feel guilty about having a few small holiday treats here and there.

If you focus 95% of your eating around healthy, whole foods you will be able to support your health and still have a little bit of wiggle room. It takes a little bit of practice to avoid over-eating during the holiday season, but it is well worth the effort!

Recommended Reading:

The Everyday Health Girl Holiday Recipe Collection – 48 Whole foods recipes for the holidays

12 Healthy Ways to Survive a Holiday Eating Frenzy –  Great tips to help you avoid over-eating

100 Tips For A Stress-Free Christmas – My guide to help you reduce stress during the holiday season

Photo credit: stargardener

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