Your 10-step Guide to Healthier Holiday Eating

Posted by David Brummert on

Alright friends, it is the most wonderful and magical time of the year: Holiday Season.

That time of year when everyone throws their summer bodies out the window and packs on some winter “insulation” to keep warm in the long winter months ahead. Or at least that’s what it used to be when I lived in Connecticut. Down here in Florida it doesn’t get so cold, and we don’t need to pack on as much insulation around our midsections, do we?

As I write this, I can hear HUNDREDS of voices in my head saying, “well, yea, but it’s the holidays, so you’ve got to enjoy yourself.”

Which I agree with! To an extent.

I think the holidays are a wonderful time to reflect and be grateful, to spend time with family and friends, and to relax and enjoy a break from the routine of the year.

I don’t necessarily agree that it’s the time to stuff yourself stupid, eat 4 plates of lasagna and mashed potatoes, and drink more beers than Uncle Ned and your cousin, combined.

My clients always give me the same handful of reasons they went overboard around the holidays:

  • I couldn’t insult my grandma by not trying everything.
  • It’s the holidays, you’re supposed to cheat a little.
  • It’s a tradition that we eat X, Y, and Z – we have them every year, and I couldn’t say no.
  • It’s the ONE time of year that I eat like this.

To which I say, “Bullshit.”

Look, if you want to stuff your face until you can’t breathe and call yourself happy, go ahead. It’s not going to change my life at all. 

But maybe, just maybe, you could try something different this year and stay within shouting distance of ‘healthy’ so you don’t have so far to go when New Year’s comes around and you’re set on “getting in shape” again. And maybe you can help those relatives of yours that you love so much stay alive a little longer, with a little bit better health.

But that’s up to you, and them. You have to make the decision to do that, and then you have to stick with it when your 260lb cousin Kenny tries to give you a hard time about it. Or when your 86 year-old grandma says you haven’t eaten a thing.

I’m not over here advocating that you eat 4 salad leaves and a sprig of parsley with some lemon water. Just that you think about what you’re going to do this holiday season before you do it.

(Sound familiar? Good! It should!)

If you head into the holidays with a plan, and a reason to stick to that plan, you’re a heck of a lot more likely to stick to it, or stay close to it. You don’t have to be perfect, just a little better.

I came up with a list of 10 tips to help you eat healthier over the next few months. Take them or leave them, but as I tell my clients – Try it just this once. If you hate it and it’s miserable, you can go back to eating how you’ve always eaten, and all you’ve lost is this one year. But maybe you can start a new tradition, set a good example for your family, and feel proud of yourself. That’s not nothing, you know.

10 simple tips to avoid over-eating during the holidays

1 – Focus on protein first, and veggies second.

 Start your holiday meals with a healthy dose of protein. Whether its turkey, ham, chicken, duck, or something else – fill about 1/3 of your plate with protein, and eat the protein first. You’ll get fuller faster, burn more calories digesting it, and maintain muscle mass if you’re too stuffed to work out in the following days. Fill about ½ of your plate with veggies and the remainder with all of those sinfully delicious things you really want.

2 – Know your portion sizes.

 Aim for just a handful of sweet potatoes, stuffing, etc instead of a huge heaping pile. Think “free sample” size like at the grocery store. A simple tip is to use a smaller serving spoon when putting items on to your plate. There’s nothing wrong with trying a little bit of everything. Emphasis on little bit.

3 – Go ahead and have the dessert – IF you’re hungry. 

Don’t eat something because grandma says to eat it. If you finish your plate and are still hungry, go ahead and try the dessert. Or try splitting a plate with someone so you don’t have to eat the entire cheesecake slice. There’s no need to deny yourself. Just set a limit and stick to it.

4 – Choose where you want to “cheat” and go for it. 

Following up on #3 – you can have the things you want. But you don’t have to have some of EVERYTHING. Pick between the Pecan pie and the Pumpkin. Or have 2-3 forkfuls of each. But decide before dinner starts where you’re going to cheat and where you can skip the extra calories. 

5 – Take fewer leftovers or send people home with more.

Keep turkey day to one or two days, and not a whole week. If you’re cooking at home, try to send guests home with the majority of the leftovers – especially the things you know will tempt you throughout the coming days. And if you’re eating at someone else’s house – take fewer leftovers, and again, focus on taking mostly protein and veggies. 

6 – Fake a heart attack and then blame everyone who wanted you to eat more.

Slightly sinister, but hey, it gets a message across and potentially stops another family argument about who had the better high school football career.

7 – Drink water, mostly, and limit yourself to 1 or 2 alcoholic beverages if you’re going to drink them.

This is one as simple as they come – DON'T DRINK YOUR CALORIES. They add up unbelievably fast, you’re unlikely to notice how many you’ve had, and if you’re drinking alcohol, you’re a lot more likely to make poor food decisions (and possibly poor life decisions) after a few cold ones. Stick with water, tea, or no more than 2 alcoholic beverages interspersed with full glasses of water.

8 – Add cinnamon to your sweet potatoes, cheesecake, or other sweets.

Cinnamon can help your body take up glucose from your blood stream in much the same way as insulin does. So you’ll have a slightly smaller spike in blood sugar after you have that cheesecake if you generously sprinkle cinnamon on it. Same for hot cocoa, pumpkin pie, ice cream, and sweet potatoes – anything with a high sugar content.

9 – Eat breakfast on holidays.

I don’t know about your family, but on Thanksgiving, my family becomes delusional and thinks that “dinner” happens at 12:30 or 1pm. Try eating a little later than that, and having a hearty breakfast with protein and veggies as the focus (think about a tradition of thanksgiving breakfast omelets!). You’ll be less hungry when “dinner” time rolls around, and less likely to overdo it.

10 – Make “healthier” versions of the traditional dishes like pumpkin pie with almond milk and flax seed. 

All recipes have variations that are slightly healthier than their more decadent counterparts. Check out this awesome recipe for pumpkin pie with flax seed! Or just use your normal recipe with the following substitutions:

“Take your normal pumpkin pie recipe and sub an equal amount of almond milk for evaporated milk and use an egg replacer. For each egg called for, just mix 1 tablespoon ground flax with 3 tablespoons warm water, then let it sit for 15 minutes. It acts as both a binder and an egg substitute.”

11 – Eat slowly, and only until you’re 80% full. 

Eating slowly helps your brain decide when you’re actually full, and prevents that button-bursting regret that comes when you scarf down three plates in 15 minutes and then can’t walk. Also -talk more to people. You’ll eat slower, enjoy the food and the company more, and tap into the whole purpose of thanksgiving (which is gratitude, and not food, by the way). Think about taking a walk as a family after dinner, or playing with the kids (or the adults) instead of just plopping on the couch. A little light moving will help you digest, burn some calories, and feel less guilty about the extra serving of whipped cream you snuck from the can when nobody was looking.

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful holiday season, full of great food, great company, and rich with laughter and love.

And remember – use your powers for good!