3 Healthy Holiday Tips to Prevent the Thanksgiving Binge Regret

Enjoy your holiday meal and stick with your health goals. It is possible!

There’s a strange phenomenon that goes on around the holiday season. For some reason, we get in the mindset of “ultimate survival” – it is the last time we are ever going to eat, we have no control over what is going to happen to us, and it’s all or nothing until January 3rd (Jan 1 has good intentions but there’s always a “good” 2-day excuse that gets in the way…more on this in another article). 

First and foremost, let’s just get this out of the way now: let go of the guilt, shame and regret that you attach to pumpkin pie, grandma’s stuffing or mashed potatoes with gravy. If you’re going to eat them anyway, fully enjoy them and stop adding a heaping dollop of negative emotion like it’s whipped cream. (Yep, your Health Coach just told you to eat the dang piece of pie!) If you take nothing else from this article and stop reading here, then go forth with permission to LET. THAT. SH*T. GO! It doesn’t benefit anyone, so it’s not worth the energy.

Feel better? 

Good. Me too. Now let’s jump into a plan for enjoying the holidays and sticking with health goals. Is that even possible? You bet your gravy boat it is! Here are your healthy holiday tips:

1. Plan your day

Take these 3 steps to set yourself up for success for staying healthy: get a good night’s sleep, start your day with a full glass of water, and eat a protein-rich breakfast. 

Making a plan can help you stick with your health goals.

Get Sleep: Inadequate sleep wreaks havoc on the chemical messengers that regulate your appetite and satiety. Lack of sleep decreases leptin (satiety hormone), increases ghrelin (hunger hormone), and decreases insulin response to blood sugar (insulin resistance). Plan to get a full night of sleep the day before each big celebration. No excuses – you’re an adult. 

Stay Hydrated: Did you know that our brains often confuse dehydration with hunger? We opt for eating something over drinking water because food seems more gratifying. Staying hydrated throughout the day will help prevent overeating and also help in the digestion of the food you eat. Water absorbs better into your system on an empty stomach, so start your morning with a tall glass of water. I’m a big fan of the added benefits of hot lemon water first thing in the morning for balancing the body’s pH, helping with detoxification, and increasing gastric acid production for better digestion. 

Eat Breakfast: Skipping breakfast can encourage overeating later in the day and motivate fat storage over muscle-building (side-note: intermittent fasting is different from skipping a meal in preparation for overeating). This study on higher protein foods at breakfast found favorable effects on increasing satiety, decreasing food intake, and promoting diet-induced thermogenesis – your body’s natural process of creating heat and burning fat.

Instead of restricting then binging, prepare yourself to enjoy and eat with control. Try a few hard-boiled eggs, some steel cut oats with nut butter or a breakfast salad with eggs.

2. Plan your plate

Think through all of the different foods and dishes you know will be available or reach out to the host for a list of dishes that will be served, so you have an idea of what to expect. 

Now, decide which of the foods you will eat and envision your plate with only the items you really want to consume. If there are foods that you know tempt you into a second or third serving, get a clear picture of yourself fully enjoying the first bite/serving and when you come face-to-face with that food, slowly consuming it with all five of your senses. This means you slow down, breathe fully, and let your mind and body fill up on the deliciousness of that food.

Adopt this mantra “I’m intentionally choosing only the delicious foods I love” rather than “I can’t/shouldn’t eat that.” It’s much more empowering (and effective) to choose with intention instead of going in with a restrictive mindset.

3. Plan your portions

Here’s where our brains go haywire. We trick ourselves into thinking “Since I only do this once a year, I better do it right!” There’s indulging and then there’s turning off all reason and proceeding blindly. Let’s break down portion control into 3 categories (the 3 S’s): snacking, size, and satiety.

Give yourself time to digest by going for a walk after the meal and before dessert.

Snacking: Follow the rule that you can only eat it if you put it on a plate. The idea here is that you limit snacking to one small plate with your snacks and avoid “picking” at the cookies and trail mixes every time you pass by them. If you decide to snack, pick one time and use a small plate. Your body needs a break in between eating to digest and reset, constantly snacking doesn’t allow for that.

Size: Eating more than your body needs for energy is when you start to store calories as fat. Keep in mind, one meal is not going to ruin you! Two months of habitually overeating, however, will add up. Pay attention to how much you usually eat in a day and model your holiday eating after that. The total amount of food you’re eating should not excessively exceed your normal caloric intake. Try smaller portions of several foods, rather than normal portions of every food. Serve up less than you think you want.

Satiety: Hara hachi bu. No, that’s not a witchy hex I just cast to keep you away from the dessert table. It is the Japanese phrase for “Eat until you’re 80% full.” The idea behind this is to eat until you’re no longer hungry, rather than eating until you’re full. Slow down and tune into your body. Go back to a specific time when you were actually hungry and remember what it felt like in your body to satisfy that hunger. This is the feeling you should be looking for every time you eat.

Nutritious foods can be fun!

Bonus tip: Plan your exit

“Planning your exit” applies to preparing to step away from the food, and actually exiting the event. 

If you’re hosting, plan ways to remove yourself from the kitchen, dining table and any areas where there is food, once you are full. I highly recommend organizing a group walk after the meal to help with digestion and encourage others to also step away from the food – this works whether you’re hosting or you’re a guest.

Now, for your grand exit! Decide what time you plan to leave or when you would like guests to leave and set that expectation from the start of the event. It’s not “mean” to set boundaries and look out for your own wellbeing. Set a subtle alarm for 30 minutes before you plan to leave and begin the rounds of saying goodbye. I recommend allowing an hour for this process if you’re hosting. I like the strategy of excusing yourself to the bathroom, as this provides a harmless break in conversation and allows you to easily transition into your exit. As the host, asking for help with dishes is usually a good sign that the evening is wrapping up…it’s also a sure way to get people out of your house! If you’re hosting, don’t forget to send everyone home with leftovers. If you’re a guest, make your exit early so you aren’t stuck taking home extra leftovers!

The best laid plans…

The intention of the above tips is not for them to be executed with perfection, rather for them to provide tools and an outline to help you feel more in control (and actually more free) over the holidays. Enjoyment shouldn’t come at the expense of your health and three days (or two months) of feeling miserable. Whatever your plan is, stick with it, set boundaries, and be kind to yourself. 

Dawn does in-person or virtual wellness coaching to help you achieve the health you want.

If you want help setting up a custom plan that will work for you and your needs, reach out. I offer a 15 minute complimentary health coaching session and we can discuss what your healthy holiday plan could look like.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And enjoy the holidays!