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Healthy Eating Hacks for the Holidays

Article at-a-glance:

  • People can pack on the pounds during the holidays creating stress and regret when we should all be feeling joyful and grateful.
  • Here are my three tips to help you enjoy yourself while not poisoning your body with too much food and drink.
  • If you want to enjoy yourself and eat healthy, then you’ve got to get specific, and this article shows you how to do just that.

by Dr. John Neustadt

We love the holidays. Getting together with family and friends. The food. The music and festive decorations. But let’s face it, it’s not all peace and love. The Holidays can be stressful, and too many people eat their feelings. Sweets are nice distractions from being uncomfortable at work parties, around family you’d rather avoid or uncomfortable conversations. Too many of us–myself included–have experienced when a piece of pumpkin pie or one ginger cookie turns into two or more. And one day of indulgences stretches into two days, three days or weeks because you’re overscheduled, overwhelmed and stress eating. Been there. Done that too.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re stress eating or simply a glutton who loves your sweets but doesn’t want to look in the mirror at the first of the year with regret, here are my top hacks for eating healthy during the holidays (and year-round).

1.  Decide What You Really Want

When people have clearly stated goals that are non-negotiable, they reach them. This goes for any area of your life, whether it’s building a business, advancing your career, or creating the health and happiness you always wanted.

At holiday parties many people want to have fun in the moment. To them, that can mean drinking one too many cocktails. Or letting themselves go wild at the dessert table. And if that’s what fun means to you, go for it. I’m sure you’ll achieve it.

But if your intention is to enjoy yourself and eat healthy, then you’ve got to get specific. Because when there are so many unhealthy choices out there, you have to know what to look for to satisfy your taste buds so you’re not mindlessly reaching for the sugary treats.

You have to become crystal clear. So clear that even the peer pressure of your buddy, or even your boss, won’t sideline your goals.

If you want to allow yourself to have half a slice of pumpkin pie, then do that. But take the serving consciously, with your goal in mind, and enjoy it. Every bite. If you’ve been served a whole slice, stop when you’ve eaten half and get rid of the plate. Don’t let it sit in front of you, tempting you to eat more. Like breaking up with a bad relationship, put distance between you and that damn pie. Either remove your plate from the table or remove yourself from the table.

If you want to eat healthy, even in the midst of waistline-sabotaging, self-esteem-zapping treats, tell yourself, “I eat healthy.” Make it a mantra. Say it over and over throughout the night. Doing so will keep you focused on making good decisions. And when you do you’ll feel more pride and joy that comes with taking care of yourself.

But what does eating healthy look like? About half of your plate should be complex carbs such as salad, kale, swiss chard, broccoli. Basically, anything that’s not white. About 30% should be starch, such as potatoes. And the rest protein.

Not great with visualizing this? Not a problem. Look at the sample dinner plate image in the blog. That shows you a quick way to glance at your dinner plate and see how you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s not physics. But you want to get the proportions roughly correct. When you do so you’ll discover you feel fuller longer, you have more energy and fewer sugar cravings.

Get clear on the experience you want this year. Set your intention. Deciding where to put your focus will determine your experience. Try focusing on the positive. Look for the good thing about someone or situation. Not only will you find it more tolerable, but you may also actually have fun. And wouldn’t that be great?

2. Eat a Healthy Snack Before You Go

One reason people overeat sweets and desserts when they’re out is that they haven’t eaten healthy earlier in the day. When they head out to the party or to a dinner, their blood sugar is already dropping.

When that happens, watch out. Because that’s when sugar cravings kick in. When your blood sugar drops, hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine are released to break down stored sugars to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.

Epinephrine also shifts how blood flows in your brain and you become less likely to make rational healthy decisions. It decreases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which is that part of your brain involved in synthesizing information and making rational decisions. As a result, you become more reactive and start looking for that sugary quick fix to help you feel better.

When you’re out at a holiday party or getting together with friends this time of year, there’s usually something sweet nearby. And since your body wants you to get your blood sugar back up as fast as possible, you’re more likely to override your rational brain that’s telling you not to eat more sugar and grab the quick-fix cookie or cake.

But the goal is to be proactive so that you don’t get into this situation to begin with. Therefore, before you head out to a party, eat a healthy snack of protein and complex carbohydrates. Protein and complex carbohydrates are excellent ways to help regulate your blood sugar and smooth out those blood sugar dips so you don’t experience overwhelming sugar cravings.

Some suggestions for snacks include a handful of nuts and an apple. A pear and a piece of chicken. A cucumber and an egg. Or any combination. Get creative too. You can do apple with peanut butter or almond butter. Or vegetables dipped in hummus.

When you have a healthy snack before you head out, you’ll be more in control, more likely to avoid those crazy cravings that can derail you from achieving your goal and have a much better time relaxing and mingling without also experiencing the brain fog that comes when your blood sugar drops.

3. Drink Sparkling Water with Lime

Wine, beer and cocktails flow freely at holiday parties. And while you might like to imbibe in a drink, it’s important to limit what you drink (even if you’re not driving). Alcohol reduces your inhibitions. That resolve you had to eat healthy can easily be pushed aside after a couple of drinks. Plus, who needs all those empty calories and feeling more tired and foggy the next day?

Instead of alcohol, try sparkling water with lime. You can even ask for it in a champagne glass if you want to feel extra fancy. The bubbles feel good, the water is hydrating and the lime adds a nice citrus treat. And because your senses aren’t being blunted by alcohol you might actually find yourself having more fun.

And if you find yourself having less fun when you’re not drinking, then it’s time to take a good hard look at why that’s the case. Alcohol shouldn’t be the reason why you’re having fun.

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