With creamy, buttery, and sugary temptations lurking around every corner, getting through the holiday season can feel like navigating a minefield. But whether you're watching your weight, managing diabetes, or simply trying to stay healthy, it's possible to enjoy the holidays while staying on track with your nutrition. Read on for some tips for adopting healthier habits from Summit CityMD Endocrinologist Dr. Deeksha Mehta.
"Eating doesn't have to be boring. It's all about finding the right balance that works for you," says Dr. Mehta, who suggests choosing more fruits and vegetables, lean meats and plant-based sources of protein, and less processed foods with little or no added sugar.
Refined carbs like white bread, cookies, and sugary drinks can spike your blood sugar and make you feel unwell. Instead of reaching for that bowl of chips or candy at a party, try snacking on a small handful of nuts, a piece of low-fat cheese or raw veggies with yogurt or avocado-based dip. Got a sweet tooth? Indulge in better-for-you treats like fresh fruit, graham crackers with nut butter, or a mug of sugar-free hot chocolate with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
“Try to avoid or limit alcohol. If you do have an alcoholic drink, always have it with food, otherwise you may elevate your risk of hypoglycemia or low glucose levels,” says Dr. Mehta. While moderate amounts of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks per day) do not significantly increase glucose or insulin levels, the carbohydrate content of drink mixers may raise them. If you feel like having an alcoholic beverage, consider options like a light beer, dry wine, or mixed drink with sugar-free mixers like diet tonic, lemon or lime juice, club soda or seltzer.
If you know the office potluck will feature your colleague's famous chocolate fudge cake, you can plan around it. Bring a healthy dish with you to the party that you'd enjoy eating. Take inventory of social events that might come up and decide which ones are worth indulging in, within reason. Eating healthy meals on time during the day of your event can keep you feeling full, stabilize your blood sugar levels, and help prevent absentminded snacking.
When you get to that holiday party and face a spread of tempting holiday food, have a small plate of the foods you like best and then move away from temptation (AKA the buffet table). Start with vegetables to take the edge off your appetite. Eat slowly and wait 20 minutes to give your brain time to realize if you’re full.
Keep your goals reasonable and give yourself credit for what is going well. "People get disheartened if they're unable to achieve a goal, which is more likely if it's unrealistic," says Dr. Mehta. "Mistakes happen. It's okay if you fall off the wagon, as long as you have a follow-up plan."
Managing your stress levels is a good way to prevent stress eating. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, taking a walk and sharing your thoughts with a trusted friend or family member are all good stress prevention strategies, says Dr. Mehta. Exercising, ideally 150 minutes per week, and getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night can go a long way towards sticking to healthier habits.