With so many festive holidays and the new year approaching, the season of merriment and indulgence has begun. I just baked a loaf of Pumpkin Gingerbread that I can't wait to dig into and am already planning out the treats I'll make with my girls over the next few weeks. With all of these rich, and tempting foods within quick reach, here are ten quick tips for making this holiday season a healthful one for you and those you love:
1. Savor and enjoy. This season is a wonderful time to soak in the holiday spirit with those you love. Nurture your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Savor the gatherings, allowing yourself to enjoy the feel, tastes, smells, sounds, and sights of festivities.
2. Consider exploring the wide spectrum of plant-based foods. Opt for flavorful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and healthful plant-based oils, like olive oils as they work for you.
3. Focus on bright, colorful vegetables of the season. Traditional holiday dishes are full of rich, beautiful vegetables like green beans, spinach, kale, cauliflower, squash, sweet potatoes, and peppers, to mention a few. These are great sources of vital nutrients. Be sure to fill your plate at least half full with these nutrient dense holiday goodies, choosing non-starchy veggies first as you reach for seconds. I love this healthy-eating plate from Harvard as a guide:
4. Rich, heavy savories and sweets in small doses. Depriving yourself can often backfire. Be kind to yourself, instead of feeling guilty about your cravings. If you feel the need to indulge in calorie dense treats, take small portions – eating slowly, savoring each morsel with mindful awareness.
5. Experiment with healthier recipe makeovers of your favorite holiday foods. Try fresh or dried herbs and spices, cutting back on the added salt. Switch the butter out in favor of olive oil. Add less sugar in desserts. Substitute unsweetened applesauce for half the oil in your favorite holiday bread recipes. Toss in some whole grain flour instead of refined white. Have fun with it.
6. Be sensible with your beverages. Be mindful of alcohol consumption this holiday season, as calories (and hang-overs) can add up fast. Keep hydrated with water, as much as possible. Consider opting for still/sparkling water or adding a full glass of water between each sweetened and/or alcoholic beverage you reach for.
7. Keep eating. Often we can be tempted to skip meals during the holidays, “saving calories” for the holiday feast or party ahead. Unfortunately, this often leads to more hunger and guilt-ridden binges. Keep eating, perhaps smaller portions, but continue to nourish yourself.
8. Keep moving. Exercise and keeping active over the holidays is good for the soul. Try something new, or even better, try it with friends and family. The movement will keep you energized and feeling strong throughout the season. Plan ahead to be sure you can fit it into your busy schedule.
9. Balance. Find your balance over the holidays. Balance seasonal foods with healthful physical activity. Indulging today? Consider adding 5-10 minutes to your exercise routine or find ways to burn some extra calories by talking the stairs or parking a brisk walk away from your destinations. And just as important - balance the fun and late nights with the restful sleep you need. Give yourself space to catch up on those zzzz's so you don't burnout before the new year.
10. Compassion, gratitude, and giving. Back to the top and rule #1 – enjoy the holidays and everything they bring. Be compassionate to yourself and your needs while being thankful for the tools you hold within to make this holiday a healthy one. And the best gift you can give those around you? Lead by example and share your healthful behaviors with the ones you love.
Rashmi S. Bismark
I'm a preventive medicine physician specialized in mindfulness, lifestyle, and community health. I'm a yoga teacher, an educator, a researcher, a devoted mom and expatriate wife, living a blessed global nomad life.