10 Ways to Stay on Track When Holiday Foods Tempt You

Dr. Hyman shares strategies for staying lean and healthy

10 Ways to Stay on Track When Holiday Foods Tempt You

Eating well is not about perfection, especially over the holidays. These strategies will help you stay lean and healthy in situations that tempt you to veer off course.

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1. Set an intention

Want to feel great after a holiday gathering? Setting an intention makes you less likely to indulge in foods and activities that make you feel less than great. Hold yourself accountable by sharing your intention with a friend or family member. Or post it on your bathroom mirror to read later. You may want to treat yourself occasionally to pleasure foods. But most times, you’ll feel better avoiding the recreational drug I fear most: sugar.

2. Offer to host

Volunteer to host the festivities yourself. It’s an opportunity to introduce guests to the healthy foods you’ve discovered and enjoy. Controlling food choices is easier when you’re in charge of the holiday spread.

3. Don’t skip meals

Invited to a lavish event? Start your day as you always do. Avoid skipping meals to save calories or carbohydrates. One hour before your holiday meal, eat a protein- and healthy-fat-packed snack (try celery sticks with nut butter, or a protein shake). Protein and fat help you cut your cravings for sugar and processed carbs.

4. Start off smart

Prevent cravings from kicking in by starting with soup, salad or fresh veggies. Avoid appetizers made with refined flour and other unhealthy choices. Look for the vegetable board or other healthy snacks and appetizers. Volunteer to bring something to every gathering so you’re guaranteed at least one healthy choice.

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5. Rethink your drink

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and sends you down a slippery slope of bad choices. Most alcoholic beverages are also filled with sugar and empty calories. So limit alcohol or avoid it. Ask for sparkling water with lemon or lime, or bring your own. And drink two glasses of water with lemon before the meal.

6. Eat mindfully

Before the meal, take five deep breaths, and express gratitude with others. As you eat, breathe through your nose. Chew every bite slowly, focusing on flavors, colors and smells. Try to put your fork down between bites. Halfway through the meal, pause, lower your fork and take three deep breaths. Assess your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, and ask yourself, “How much more food do I need to feel satisfied, energized and comfortable?”

7. Focus on people

Plan a fun activity for after the meal: a group walk, visiting friends or family, a group game or playing with younger family members. During the party, talk to people you find genuinely interesting. Offer to help your host clean up to help prevent overeating or reaching for dessert.

8. Remember food is medicine

Each forkful of wholesome and delicious food can heal your body and mind. Appreciate your healthy food choices as you enjoy time spent with friends and family.

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9. Be polite when pushed

Occasionally, a well-meaning friend or relative may ask why you’re not indulging at a party. No one will feel insulted if you explain, “I’m here for the company, not the food.”

10. Don’t beat yourself up

If you happen to slip up, leave guilt and its toxic effects behind. Simply make a U-turn. I think of this as a GPS for the soul. It doesn’t yell at you or judge you for taking a wrong turn. It reminds you gently to take the next U-turn. If you indulge a little, pay attention. Did you enjoy the process? How did you react to the food? Then move on. Get back to the foods and activities that make you feel great.

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Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD, is Director for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder of The UltraWellness Center.
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