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The holidays are inevitably a stressful time of year. But we don’t need to make it any more stressful on ourselves by freaking out about food choices. I can’t tell you how much bad advice I’ve seen circulating the internet on how to stay healthy this holiday season. They include:

  • eating tiny portions at Thanksgiving and not going back for seconds
  • going on a sugar detox
  • amping up your gym schedule
  • avoiding specific “fattening” foods
  • saying no to dessert

I know that when this advice is given, it’s good intentioned (at least I think it is). But it causes more stress and promotes the idea that the holidays and dinners, parties and the food during the holidays is somehow something that needs to be dealt with. It’s food. Not your creepy uncle from Kansas (no offense to Kansas).

Food is not something that should induce stress. It shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. It’s not something you need to obsess over, formulate a game plan for and feel guilt over. Here’s what I do during the holidays.

Tip #1: Follow the 80/20 rule.

I eat really well majority of the time. Probably closer to 90% off the time than 80%. And I enjoy eating that way. It gives me energy, it makes me feel good mentally and physically, it sustains me. Eating well isn’t about going carb, sugar or fat free. It’s about choosing unprocessed, whole foods from the earth. It’s about eating the way humans have eaten for majority of human history. It’s about eating balanced meals with protein, fat and carbohydrates.

To give you a better idea, a meal could be scrambled eggs in butter with sautéed spinach and mushrooms. It could be a big ol’ cobb salad with pastured bacon and tons of veggies. It could be a piece of salmon or steak with buttered broccoli and mashed sweet potatoes. Who wouldn’t want to eat this way all the time? It’s delicious, nourishing and makes you feel awesome.

Because I eat so well majority of the time, I don’t stress out at all when I eat foods I normally wouldn’t. Am I going to feel bad about loading my plate with turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and stuffing? Absolutely not. And neither should you. If you normally eat well and take care of your body, there’s no reason to feel anything but pure joy when you eat these foods.

Tip #2: If you’re not hosting, bring some of your own foods. 

This year, my mother in law is hosting. She’s a great cook, but definitely cooks with things I wouldn’t use (butter substitutes, wheat, sugar, etc). Instead of just showing up empty handed, I offered to help make some of Thanksgiving dinner. This does two things:

  • makes me look like an awesome, thoughtful daughter in law
  • ensures there will be delicious, real food options

Here’s what I’m bringing this year:

  • a pastured, organic turkey from a local farm (MIL is preparing, I just ordered from my farmer)
  • green bean casserole
  • gluten-free stuffing
  • gluten-free mac and cheese (request from husband)
  • gluten-free and honey sweetened chocolate cream pie (another request from husband)

Which leads me to my third tip…

Tip #3: If you are hosting, make healthy versions!

If you are hosting, it’s even easier to have all the delicious staples and make healthier versions. Choose real, preferably grass-fed butter. Buy a pastured turkey, just go to your local farmers market. Choose organic when you can. Use whole ingredients, like real cream instead of canned cream of whatever soup, use raw honey instead of sugar, use real cranberries instead of that very odd gelatinous cranberry mold with the indents around it (I know you know what I’m talking about).

It’s easier than ever to make an entire gluten-free Thanksgiving and have none of your guests even suspect that you used anything less than wheat infused everything. This is what I did two years ago and not one person even suspected they were eating a gluten-free dinner. When I told them, the resounding response was “How?”

Well, use organic rice pasta for mac and cheese. Buy a good loaf of gluten-free bread (or you can make your own, I’m just not that committed) for the stuffing. Use almond flour for pie crusts. Use arrowroot to thicken your sauces.

Some other easy tips:

  • choose organic, grass-fed and pastured as much as possible
  • use real butter
  • use full-fat cream and milk
  • make from scratch as much as possible
  • use real fruits and veggies instead of canned
  • swap sugar with raw honey and maple syrup

Tip #4: Chill out, slow down, enjoy.

My husband gets so excited at Thanksgiving dinner, that one year he ate so quickly that he got a stomach ache, had to lie down and couldn’t even enjoy dessert (until like two hours later when he finally could get off the couch). This is a time to be with friends and family, talk, laugh and savor your meal. Just as this is not a time to stress about your food, it’s also not a time to inhale your food.

Eat slowly. Savor. Chew! People really underestimate chewing. It’s where digestion begins; your saliva starts to break down the food. Don’t rush through dinner and immediately go for seconds. Put your fork down between bites if you have to. Just pay attention to how and what your’e eating. Don’t mindlessly shovel it in.

If you want seconds, go for seconds. I definitely do. But I wait a bit before diving back in. Sometimes it takes a little while to register how full we are. If you immediately load up your plate, you might end up feeling so uncomfortably stuffed that you just went from having to undo the fly on your pants to having to remove your pants altogether. And that’s weird.

Tip #5: Eat what you want. You’re a grown a$$ adult!

The “advice” that really bothers me around the holidays is that people should just deprive themselves.

Skip dessert. Bring a big salad to Thanksgiving dinner, then just load your plate up with that and a little bit of turkey. Only eat turkey at dinner with veggie based sides. Run in place while you eat your meal. 

You’re capable of making healthy decisions for yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to follow the bad advice out there. Use your own judgment, no one knows your body better than you. If you want those mashed potaters, eat ’em! If you know the stuffing grandma made is going to upset your stomach, maybe skip it. Do what’s right for you.

This isn’t a ticket to stuff yourself so full that you feel sick. This is a time to enjoy a great meal with family and friends. There’s no need to focus on how many calories are in the pie or how many carbs are in the stuffing. Just make healthy choices that work for you and don’t stress out over what you eat.

2 responses on “Five Tips To Stay Healthy & Sane This Holiday Season (Hint: it ain’t about deprivation)

  1. Anita Jones

    Bravo! Bravo!!! Thank you for this post!! So very refreshing to read that it’s ok to indulge a little on Thanksgiving and not feel horrible about yourself afterwards. Thanksgiving to me is all about the love you and others put in the food you’re about to eat; so it should be savored and enjoyed! Not frowned upon or judged about the amount of butter or cream that was used. I’m thankful for your candid posts and realistic advice. Happiest of Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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