The holiday season is almost upon us – and this special time of year is widely recognized as the perfect opportunity to gather with friends and family for festivities, memory-making, and feasting! For many of us, it’s the most food-focused time of the entire year. While food can be a symbol of love, and synonymous with honoring tradition, it’s important to love and honor yourself by making the best choices for your body, so you can feel good and enjoy every bite.
In order to make healthy choices, we must first respect our bodies and minds. Begin your day with an invigorating walk, some gentle stretches, or perhaps some expression of gratitude through journaling or meditation. Even better, incorporate all of these into your morning, and start a wellness ritual of sorts. You don’t need a special occasion!
Knowledge is power. Follow a few general guidelines, and you’ll be better equipped to make the best choices for your body.
- Be aware of the most common digestive “offenders” and the discomforts that may come along as a result – wheat (and gluten), milk (and dairy), eggs, soy, and corn. That seemingly unavoidable “food coma” may have more to do with the negative effects of our dietary choices than we wish to believe. Feeling tired or mentally foggy is not a result of eating foods that nourish and support your body. Other common symptoms include bloating or irregular digestion (burping, excessive gas), skin rashes of any kind, runny nose or excess mucus, muscle aches and joint pains, and even depression or mood swings.
- If you suspect possible sensitivities, it’s important to choose foods that are in their most “natural” state, and simpler is better. Enjoy a variety of meats – turkey, duck, beef, spiral cut ham – roasted, braised, or grilled. Choose steamed or roasted veggies, squash, baked potatoes, and rice over other sides; then add some real butter or olive oil (if you’re dairy intolerant) for a dose of heart-healthy fats.
- Many casseroles and soups contain dairy and other thickeners such as flour or cornstarch, and there can be myriad hidden ingredients in side dishes. Gravy, stuffing, gratins, green bean and sweet potato casseroles, and even mashed potatoes, are all likely laced with one or more suspect ingredient. No surprise, store-bought breads and baked goods typically contain a potentially painful combination of wheat, dairy, soy, and corn (high-fructose corn syrup). Just keep in mind, homemade does not equal healthy. Though made with love and the best of intentions, Grandma’s famous apple pie can still have less than warm and fuzzy consequences (and even wreak havoc on your system).
- BYOF – bring your own food. Contribute a healthy dish to ensure you’re well fed.
- Be a food snob. If you don’t love it, don’t eat it. Scan the buffet for foods you truly treasure and skip the everyday dishes that are available all year long. And, remember, it’s not your responsibility to sample everything on the buffet. Go ahead and indulge in your personal holiday favorites, then find a seat and, slowly and mindfully, savor every mouthful.
- Trim back the trimmings. Go easy when adding nuts, cheese, cream sauces, gravy, and whipped cream. These calorie-dense, often digestive-disrupting additions don’t really add much to the meal, but can add plenty to your waistline and cause regrettable pain.
- Picture the perfect plate. Portions of protein and vegetables should dominate, with a small helping of the heavier stuff. Save room for dessert (if you must), or a second glass of wine. Maybe not both…
Start with water, and be sure to keep sipping on it throughout the meal (and beyond). Want something a little more “potent”? Opt for red wine over sweeter whites or bubbly. Soda pop is not special – skip it. Sip on soda water or tonic instead, and dress it up with a lime wedge or slice of fruit. Steer clear of punches; they’re usually sugar bombs in disguise.
Indulge your sweet tooth. There’s no need to deny yourself; but approach the dessert table with a clear mind by first evaluating your level of hunger. Is FOMO (fear of missing out) sabotaging your decision making process? Give yourself a break to digest a bit, relax, and enjoy the festivities before making a break for the baked goods. Consider some fresh fruit topped with a dollop of whipped cream, or be unconventional and opt for a sampling of cheese to end your meal.
- Practice mindful eating. Focus on chewing your food well and enjoying the smell, taste, and texture of each bite. Take your time, and allow your body to register fullness.
- Keep it light. I’m not referring to food choices here. Don’t feel the need to justify why you choose to eat or avoid specific foods, or to convince others to follow suit. Make your choices and leave the soapbox at home.
- Nix the nap. Take a walk. Resist the urge to lie down (hello, heartburn!) and move around. A post-meal walk can aid digestion, speeding the rate at which food moves through the stomach, and can decrease blood sugar levels; both especially helpful if you’ve sampled one too many desserts.
Ultimately… food should be nourishing, energizing and pleasurable (emphasis on the latter). Making the best choices for you and your body will ultimately result in a positive experience, and that’s something to be thankful for!