By: Christine B. Tenekjian, MPH, RDN, LDN, NBC-HWC, Dietitian Clinician, Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center, and Kim Ha, Dietetic Intern at Duke Hospital.
The holidays seem to be right around the corner as the weather becomes colder and the leaves are changing color. With this, there may be mixed emotions of anxiety, joy, and confusion around food. Anticipating and managing these emotions can help to prioritize health and wellness throughout this time.
Challenges such as sweet treats, larger meals with family, or eating traditional foods may trigger temptations and emotions that may be difficult to navigate. Writing down foreseeable holiday struggles and how they are changing from previous years is a way to manage and understand thoughts. Keep in mind what is working well, what is not working well, what kind of support is needed, and consider how to be proactive.
In addition to documenting holiday challenges, it is equally important to write down what is most special to you. This might look like spending more time with family, developing new traditions, or getting some needed relaxation. Whatever it may be, shifting our thoughts towards gratitude and positivity allows us to enjoy special indulgences that only occur once a year. Rather than feeling guilty, we can choose to enjoy those foods while focusing on overall balance. Maintaining healthy and mindful eating habits on most days will provide a solid foundation. Once those healthy habits are established, there is more room for enjoyment around the holidays.
Healthy habits such as prioritizing regular and balanced meals can be especially helpful around the holidays. Research shows that people gravitate towards food more readily available. Instead of worrying about the occasional indulgence in “bad” foods, focus on stocking the fridge and pantry with healthy snacks and meals. Keep it simple with one-dish instant pot or crockpot meals, or use healthy shortcuts like rotisserie chicken or frozen or pre-cut veggies. Try using seasonal produce such as pumpkin and leafy greens to create healthy sides, and purchase single-serving healthy snacks like 100-cal popcorn bags or nuts. Having balanced meals and snacks most of the time is ultimately the foundation of wellness.
Prioritizing how to navigate food-centric spaces such as grocery stores, work, and family gatherings is undoubtedly important through the holidays. Grocery stores strategically display pastries and half cakes at the entrance to tempt consumers into buying a sweet treat as they walk in. Try not to go grocery shopping when hungry, or consider online ordering and pick up to avoid unnecessary purchases. First, ensure you have eaten balanced meals beforehand – don’t arrive too hungry for gatherings. Consider bringing something healthy to share and plan for what special treats you will enjoy at the gathering, in moderation. Practice mindfulness and intentionality when choosing what to eat, and focus on the quality time spent with your friends and loved ones.
Temptations may also be a challenge when it comes to food-related gifts. Try providing family and friends with a gift list or regifting/donating food gifts to avoid unwanted temptations. When giving gifts, consider seasoned vinegar, spiced nuts/seeds, herb and spice blends, special tea/coffee, or non-food gifts such as a pedicure or massage – others might also want to avoid too much temptation!
Managing the holiday season is only part of the larger picture of health. Identifying healthy strategies throughout the seasons can help you develop habits that increase mindfulness and intentionality. Recognize what kind of support is needed, celebrate the most important traditions, and practice gratitude daily. This will allow us to enjoy the holidays without guilt. Enjoy healthy indulgences by choosing with intention – and eating with attention – this holiday season.
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