The holiday season is upon us once again. For the most part, it’s a magical time, full of love, gratitude, and celebrations.
But amongst the festive fun and family gatherings, for many people, this time of year can present a BIG challenge when it comes to staying on track with health and fitness goals. How can you enjoy the holidays and come out the other side with your wellbeing intact? It’s a tough ask and one that isn’t always easy to navigate.
In this guide, we’re taking a deep dive into healthy holiday feasting – from ingenious eating tips to a backup SOS holiday detox plan.
Let’s take a look!
Holiday Feasting Guide
Tips for eating healthier during the holidays and a guide for your post-holiday "detox" if that healthy holiday eating doesn't go to plan.
9 Tips for Healthier Holiday Feasting
1. Be mindful of portion sizes
Around the holidays, it’s completely normal to load your plate with a few more roast potatoes than you usually would. It’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A few days of indulgence won’t undo years worth of eating well!
That being said, if you’re someone who’s prone to slipping back into unhealthier habits, or you’re just getting started with a healthier eating regime, keeping an eye on your holiday portion sizes may be something worth considering…
And no, this doesn’t mean starving yourself!
It’s just a case of slowing down and being a little more conservative. Remember that holiday eating is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about the long game.
Going a little smaller than usual with your meals and snacks has two main benefits:
- It gives you more room to sample a wide range of holiday specials.
- You don’t run the risk of overeating and having to be rolled away from the dinner table.
2. Start with a protein source
Aside from helping you maintain lean muscle mass, protein can be useful in increasing satiety – helping you feel fuller for longer.
In fact, a 2014 study concluded that:
“Increased satiety helps to decrease energy intake, which is a requisite for successful weight loss. In general, increased satiety has been observed after meals with a protein content in the range of 25% to 81%”.
It makes sense then that eating a portion of protein at the start of your day (or at the beginning of your meal) may help to control your appetite.
A few options you might like to explore:
- Hemp protein breakfast smoothie
- Smoked salmon + eggs
- Balsamic glazed tempeh or tofu
- Turkey or chicken breast
3. Fill up on the veggies
Non-starchy veg like leafy greens, broccoli and sprouts are low in total calories, but full of important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Like protein, they help to keep you full and nourish your body, so pile them up before you reach for the roast potatoes!
Some delicious, healthy options you can try this holiday season include:
4. Put a healthy twist on the classics
It turns out you can have your holiday cake and eat it too!
By making a few small tweaks to timeless festive classics, you can still enjoy those familiar flavors without having to compromise your dietary beliefs.
A few great alternatives:
- Cranberry + Pistachio Nut Roast
- Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole
- 3 Ingredient Paleo Cranberry Sauce
- Paleo Christmas Pudding
5. Slow down & savor the flavors
As with many things in life, a little bit of mindfulness can go a long way.
By slowing down with your food, you really get to appreciate each mouthful and experience all the intense flavors present. It’s also way better for your digestive system, and it gives your gut a chance to signal when it’s nearly full. This means you’re less likely to overeat! In fact, several studies have shown that mindful eating can be an effective strategy for weight loss and managing eating disorders.
Let’s face it – in amongst all the family banter and cracker-pulling, being fully present for every single mouthful isn’t realistic. But just picking one element of your meal or bringing your attention back every few minutes can still make a big difference.
A few questions you might want to ask yourself:
- Which of these 5 tastes are in your meal? Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, Umami (Savory)
- Can you identify any of these holiday flavors? Fruity, buttery, earthy, vanilla, fudgy, nutty, smoky, minty
- What is the texture/mouthfeel of the food? Crispy, Creamy, Tender, Rough, Chewy
6. Be aware of high-salt foods
Being mindful of your salt intake over the holidays can help you to avoid water retention (and the dreaded bloat) later in the day.
Excess salt intake has also been linked with raised blood pressure. If you’re in charge of prepping foods and you’re likely to be a little stressed over the holidays, it may be an important thing to keep in mind.
Examples of common high-salt holiday culprits include:
- Ham (1 slice 56g): 730 mg sodium (32% DV)
- Stuffing (½ cup): 543mg sodium (24% DV)
- Turkey Gravy (½ cup): 540 mg sodium (22%DV)
Again, it’s not about complete elimination or restriction. Just being more aware of these foods, trying not to go overboard and staying hydrated can make a big difference!
7. Be sensible with your drinks
Here’s the thing:
I’m definitely not saying there’s anything wrong with a little holiday tipple.
That being said, there is a smart way to go about it. When it comes to festive fluids, here are some useful tips to have a think about:
- Drink water prior to meals to aid digestion and increase satiety.
- Try mocktails, kombucha or stevia-sweetened teas as healthy alcohol-alternatives.
- If you do drink alcohol, think about quality over quantity. Opt for a decent wine, don’t overdo it, and make sure to drink water in between glasses.
- Ginger or peppermint tea is a lifesaver when it comes to relieving gas and bloating.
8. Stay active
The holidays can be a great time to relax and spend time with loved ones, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop moving altogether!
A few ways to keep active over the festive period:
- A family walk pre or post meal to help control the blood sugar response.
- Active, outdoor games over indoor board games.
- Short, early morning workouts to get your activity in for the day.
9. Let go of perfection!
The ‘perfect diet’ doesn’t really exist. It’s okay to let your hair down and enjoy yourself from time to time.
If that means eating a few foods here and there over the holidays that you wouldn’t normally go for, that’s okay. You don’t have to beat yourself up over every gram of cranberry sauce that passes your lips. You have permission not to be perfect (because in reality, none of us are).
Balanced wellbeing isn’t about getting everything spot on every minute of the day. It’s about doing your best and trying to eat well 80-90% of the time, but still leaving some room to have fun!
What if it All Goes Wrong? Your Post-Holiday “Detox” Plan
If despite all the above tips, your healthy holiday eating doesn’t quite go to plan, all is not lost!
The body is a marvelous and incredibly resilient machine, and there are many things you can do to support the recovery process to help yourself get back on track.
Here are some of the most effective:
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
I really can’t reiterate this enough:
Letting go and having a bit of binge doesn’t make you a bad person.
It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you have no willpower. Sure, you took a bit of a detour, but you’re still awesome, and can pick yourself up and get back on track!
Dwelling on your perceived ‘mistake’ is a surefire way to stress yourself out, so instead do your best to let go, move on, and learn from the experience.
2. Avoid the extreme.
Severe calorie restriction or going on a juice cleanse isn’t the answer to a heavy holiday season. They may sound trendy and promise life-changing results, but unfortunately, that’s largely the product of marketing…
What does work?
Gently making your way back to a balanced diet and an active lifestyle. No secret shortcuts or magic potions required.
3. Aid digestion
If you’ve overeaten during the holiday period, your digestive system may benefit from a little helping hand to get back to normal.
A few tips and tricks that are tried and tested:
- Fiber-rich food – such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can support digestion and have a whole host of other benefits.
- Probiotics – if your gut isn’t super-sensitive to yeasts and fermented foods, friendly gut bacteria found in yogurt, kimchee, miso, tempeh, and kombucha can often help improve digestive health.
- Limit stress – guided meditation and good sleep quality are two amazingly simple ways to help keep stress levels low, supporting the gut biome.
4. Support the liver
If you had a few too many beverages over the holidays, supporting your liver may prove beneficial. The liver is involved in processing alcohol in the body, so anything we can do to help it do its job better and come back strong is worth experimenting with.
A few ways to potentially do that:
- Limit alcohol – as you might expect, you can probably benefit from giving your liver a rest by limiting alcohol for at least a month or so, and drinking plenty of water.
- Eat cruciferous veg – cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts are rich in sulfur. Sulfur is involved in the production of glutathione – an important antioxidant involved in liver function and natural detoxification.
- Eat your berries – blueberries and cranberries are rich in anthocyanins, which may help protect the liver from damage.
5. Get moving
The post-holiday season is the perfect time to get active and set new targets for your fitness.
You can take advantage of the collective consciousness – millions of people around the world setting resolutions and doing their best to make positive changes in their lives.
A few ideas you can play with:
- Take up a new hobby or activity like running, martial arts, climbing or yoga.
- Revamp your current exercise routine and set some new goals for the next few months.
- Commit to a challenge or race and prep a training plan for it.
3-Day Post-Holiday Booster
Add these to your balanced diet within the first 3 days after your holiday feast to bring down inflammation and supercharge digestion.
- Drink 1 cup of Kombucha made from green tea. If you’re okay with fermented foods, kombucha is a great one to incorporate. It contains antioxidants and probiotics to help maintain a balance of good bacteria in your gut. Make sure you stick to ones with no more than 5g added sugar per serving.
- Snack on 1 handful of unsalted brazil nuts (1 oz). Brazil’s are rich in selenium which increases antioxidant activity (protects cells from damage) and reduces inflammation. They also contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium (great for heart health).
- Eat 1 cup of red cabbage as part of a meal (try shredded in a salad). With more Vitamin C than green cabbage, the red variety is rich in fiber, sulfur, and anthocyanins (which may reduce blood pressure, liver damage and inflammation).
Have a Happy, Healthy Holiday!
Now you’re armed with all our top tips and tricks for enjoying a healthy festive season, it’s over to you!
Out of all the ideas we discussed above, number 9 in the first section may well be the most important – to let go of perfection.
Yes, there are things we can do to make the holidays a little healthier. But remember to keep that big picture in mind, don’t be too harsh on yourself, and have some fun!
And if you have any nifty tactics that you like to use over the holidays, feel free to reach out and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!