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5 tips for healthy eating over the holidays

December 23, 2021 • read

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5 tips for healthy eating over the holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — and also the most gluttonous. If you’re getting together with friends and family over the next few weeks, chances are you’re also dodging a constant stream of baked goods, charcuterie boards, and rich, delicious foods. Your mouth may be watering just thinking about it, but overindulgence can leave you wishing you’d eaten more healthfully over the holidays. Here’s how to enjoy those holiday spreads without derailing your usual diet.

Make sure to manage food allergies

Whether you’re hosting or guesting this holiday season, allergy awareness should be part of the equation. If you’re having people over, make it a point to ask your guests about any allergies or food intolerances such as celiac disease. Allergy flashpoints like peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish are often present in holiday dishes.

If you do have party-goers with anaphylactic allergies, leave those ingredients off your menu entirely, or warn the affected parties in advance that they’ll be present to avoid any allergic reactions. And don’t forget to let other guests know about serious food restrictions if you’re asking them to bring dishes.

If you’re the one with an allergy or are bringing a child with one to a holiday party, plan ahead. Let your host know in advance and ask if the allergen will be present. If they can’t guarantee that they’ll be leaving it out, bring your own snacks. It’s hard to get kids to be allergy alert, especially in a festive environment, and unaware relatives or those who choose not to follow allergy guidelines might have their own ideas about what your kids should eat.

Bringing your own treats can go a long way to counteract this. If your child knows you have a whole box of allergy-safe chocolate, they’re going to be sticking to you like glue instead of hovering around the dessert table. If you’re attending a sit-down dinner and grandma insists on stuffing her turkey with pine nuts, you can even go as far as bringing your own meal.

Last of all, and most crucially, make sure your epinephrine autoinjector (also known as an EpiPen) goes everywhere you go and is always easily accessible. If you’re with other family members, let them know where you keep it too. And if you haven’t already, make sure all family members know how to spot the symptoms of anaphylaxis and correctly use an epinephrine autoinjector.

Keeping your gut health on track over the holidays

Those rich holiday foods and sugary baked goods don’t just affect your waistline, they can also wreak havoc on your gut health. A healthy gut is one that’s full of different bacteria, and drastic changes to your diet — like the kind that happens over the holidays — can upset the balance of your gut’s microbiome. This can result in everything from headaches to fluctuations in mood to skin problems. And that doesn’t include the more immediate physical issues to your digestive system either like constipation, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

To keep your gut healthy, take stock of what you’re ingesting and try incorporating probiotic supplements into your daily routine. On days you know you’ll be overindulging when you’re out, create a good foundation at home. And once you’re out, aim to make mindful choices.

Choose whole foods, fruits, and veggies over heavily processed and sugary options. Even the most decadent holiday spreads afford you options — try to steer clear of overly processed treats like pigs in a blanket in favour of minimally processed options. There may not be a big caloric difference between hot dogs wrapped in store-bought dough and a hunk of blue cheese, but gut-wise there is.

Intermittent fasting and the holidays

Intermittent fasting involves compressing the number of hours you eat during the day such as restricting yourself to eating between noon and 8pm instead of the usual 7am to 8pm. Research suggests that intermittent fasting may offer a number of benefits. But if you haven’t already started doing it, the holidays may not be the best time to start.

If you’re new to intermittent fasting, you might not have figured out the full range of effects it has on you. You could end up at a holiday gathering on an empty stomach, which is a surefire recipe for overeating. Intermittent fasting might also push you into drinking on an empty stomach, which accelerates your bloodstream’s absorption of alcohol.

This puts you at risk of getting drunk more quickly, even if you’re drinking the same amount of alcohol. This not only makes you more likely to get sick, but it can also have consequences for driving over the legal limit.

If you’re already familiar with intermittent fasting, try to break your fast with a nutritious and filling meal before heading out for a holiday shindig. And, as always, watch your alcohol consumption until you’ve eaten properly.

Sticking to the keto diet over the holidays

Festive meals get a bad rap, but holiday dinners actually can work nicely with certain diets — especially the keto diet. If you’re on the keto diet right now, a traditional Christmas dinner, for example, leaves you with some great options. As long as you stay away from the stuffing and mashed potatoes, vegetables, turkey, and mashed sweet potatoes are all acceptable on the diet. Hold back on gravy and cheese sauce though — both of them require flour to achieve that thick roux mixture.

Even with a number of options, sticking to a diet during the most decadent time of the year can be hard. Remind yourself of why you’re dieting in the first place by running through the benefits to yourself ahead of time.

Keto is effective at reducing fat, especially belly fat. Beyond that, it’s one of the only diets that can reliably lower blood sugar, and therefore insulin levels. If you’re on the keto diet to treat pre-diabetes or diabetes, remind yourself about the health consequences of going off your plan.

Whether you’re trying to stick to a diet or just want to make the holidays as healthy as possible, here are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Plan ahead

If you’re heading out for some holiday feasting, make sure you’re not going on an empty stomach. While skipping breakfast and lunch before heading to grandma’s Christmas dinner might seem like a good idea, it’s not. It’s hard to make good decisions when you’re hungry, and your rumbling tummy will drive the boat. Keep yourself from overeating by eating a light but filling meal before you head out for a holiday feast.

2. Watch what you drink

If you start looking forward to eggnog season at the first twinge of cool air, this is especially important. One eight-ounce glass of eggnog alone can weigh in at a whopping 360 calories and 23 grams of sugar. And that’s before you spike it with a little tipple. Even a glass or two of wine or holiday punch can add up, and all without filling you up.

There’s no shame in indulging in a drink or two from time to time, but overdoing it can leave you feeling bloated and struggling with additional weight. Decide how many drinks you’ll be having ahead of time and stick to your limit.

3. Balance out your diet

Knowing that you’re going all-in on the festive feasting doesn’t mean limiting yourself to salad the rest of the month. It’s worthwhile, however, to aim for a little balance in your diet when you can.

If you can’t control yourself around your friend’s famous Yorkshire pudding, go easy on the simple carbs leading up to the party and make sure you’re taking in enough fibre from fruits and vegetables. A packed holiday calendar will derail you less if you tweak your diet slightly to compensate for it.

4. Don’t socialize at the snack table

While congregating around the food is natural, it’s also a recipe for overeating. Socializing while staring at a delicious spread makes you more likely to overeat or eat mindlessly.

Instead of setting up shop next to the stuffed dates and sticky buns, grab a small plate and make your way across the room — or better yet, into another room. You can always head over to the refreshments if you’re feeling peckish. And, it’s a great way to end a conversation that’s been going on too long.

5. Go easy on yourself

A lot of people overdo it during the holidays – it’s pretty hard not to. Shame and guilt can get bound up with eating habits, but weight loss and what you eat don’t determine your worth as a human being. If you find yourself upset about overindulging over the holidays, pause and give yourself a break. Instead of being upset about past behaviour you can’t change, take stock of what’s in your control and use that to get back on track.

While it might seem smarter to drastically curtail your caloric intake to make up for past behaviour, that’s likely to lead to hunger and more overeating. Instead, plan for some healthy meals that will fill you up but also replenish you nutritionally. It might take some time to get back on track nutritionally, but slow and steady is often a better choice. One off-day, off-week, or even off-month isn’t the end of the world.

If you struggle with healthy eating even without the holidays, you might benefit from seeing a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are trained food and nutrition experts. They’ll assess your health and dietary needs and develop a food plan to suit your taste and your budget.

Maple lets you see a registered dietitian from your phone, computer, or tablet when it’s convenient for you. Speak to a registered dietitian today to take control of your nutritional journey.

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