A registered dietitian offers ways to create ideal food environments and tips on keeping mindfulness at the forefront so you can enjoy celebrations while sticking to your healthy eating habits.
Food can mean many things: It’s a way to show love, experience nostalgia and celebrate special occasions. There will always be something to celebrate, from family gatherings at Christmas and date nights for Valentine’s Day to birthdays, graduations and job promotions throughout the year. That’s why it’s important for us to adopt healthy eating habits that can lead us through both our everyday lives and those special moments.
“Creating ideal food environments and keeping mindfulness at the forefront can help you balance out those celebrations with your everyday healthy habits,” says registered dietitian Alexandra Agasar.
Creating an Ideal Food Environment
It may be easy to make healthy choices when you’re cooking for yourself at home, but willpower will only go so far when you’re faced with tables full of indulgent dishes. This is why setting up an ideal food environment can be helpful—it eases your decision-making process.
While holidays can be busy for everyone, make it easier for yourself by planning out and prepping your meals and snacks for each day so you’re not left hungry and grazing in your kitchen or the break room at work.
If you plan to attend a gathering, don’t skip your regular meals that day. “It’s common for people to skip meals on the day of a big gathering, with the intention to ‘save up’ those calories,” says Agasar. “But skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day.” Skipping meals makes us hungry and lowers blood sugar, which can leave us deprived and struggling to make healthy choices. Make sure you’re eating breakfast and lunch to set yourself up for success on the day of a gathering.
Think about bringing a nourishing dish of your own to holiday gatherings and parties. “There will probably be many decadent dishes and sides at the gathering, so bring something nutritious with you,” says Agasar. “That way, you can focus on filling up on the healthy dish of your choice and eat smaller portions of the sides you really want.”
Having a support system at a gathering, even if it’s just one friend or family member, can also be helpful when setting up your ideal food environment. “This person doesn’t need to be your ‘food police,’ but instead someone you can talk to about making healthier choices, sit with you as you eat so you can be more mindful or bring a nourishing dish to the gathering,” says Agasar.
Focusing on Mindfulness
Another key to managing your weight and sticking to healthy habits during holidays and celebrations is practicing mindfulness. This means slowing down when it comes to filling your plate and eating a meal. “It can be very habitual to fill your plate with large portions and not really think about it,” says Agasar.
When you’re at a gathering, try taking a look at all the food options before starting to fill up your plate, so you know what you really want to eat and what you can pass on. Try to focus on lean proteins and veggies, and then include smaller portions of sides you might not normally have on a daily basis. “Filling up on nourishing foods leaves you more satisfied and not deprived, so you can still enjoy those special dishes in moderation,” says Agasar. “It can also help to be mindful of liquid calories—try to limit alcohol and choose holiday drinks that are lower in fat and sugar.”
Have a designated time to eat so you can savor your food, instead of snacking when sitting on the couch or standing around the kitchen. “When we’re distracted, we tend to eat a lot more than when we’re focusing on a meal and paying attention to our body’s cues,” says Agasar. Once you sit down with your plate, eat slowly—not only will you enjoy your food more, but you can also better recognize when you’re full.
Finally, throw out the “I’m going to diet on January 1st” and “I’m going to start on Monday” mindsets. “Our bodies are very smart. When our brain senses deprivation around the corner, it can lead us to be really out of control at every party or gathering leading up to that day,” says Agasar. Indulging once in a while isn’t going to make or break your overall health—the key is adopting balanced and sustainable healthy eating habits that can carry you through your day-to-day as well as holidays and celebrations.