The holidays are here! It’s time for festive food, celebrations, and shopping. With all the distractions, it can be challenging to move through this season mindfully. Here are some tips from an online dietitian, on how to be mindful of your health during the holidays.
1. Be consistent with your eating habits and pay attention to hunger cues.
During the holidays, it may seem like each day passes quicker than the last. It's easy to slip into inconsistent eating habits and ignore your hunger cues.
Real hunger usually occurs when you haven’t eaten after a couple of hours. Some easily identifiable hunger cues are a grumbling stomach and fatigue. Eating frequent balanced meals consisting of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and adequate calories every couple of hours may help to reduce this feeling (1,2,3). Ingesting fulfilling food may reduce your chances of overeating throughout the day. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger, so don’t forget to meet your water goals (4).
*If you want to learn more about what a healthy meal plan looks like, check out this e-book written by Jennifer Mimkha, an online dietitian.
2. Minimize distractions while eating
A big component of mindful eating is enjoying meal times without distractions. Distractions include eating while watching your favorite Netflix series or scrolling on social media. Joking aside, eating with distractions may increase your chances of overeating calories.
For example, one study looked at the effects of watching television while eating for 16 young women. The young women were separated into two groups. One group watched television while eating, whereas the other group didn’t watch TV while eating. A tasting session of cookies occurred later in the day (5). So what was the result? Those who ate while being distracted ended up eating more later in the day than the other group. No surprise there.
So does that mean I need to eat without distractions all the time? No, but test it out every now and then, and do it at your own pace. You could also work with an online dietitian to work with you to navigate your goals in this area.
3. Eat before events & boost your fiber intake
Eating before events and boosting fiber intake may increase fullness and decrease calorie consumption. By eating a meal before an event, it may reduce your chances of splurging on treats during the event. Adding fiber to meals has been shown to increase your fullness levels and minimize excess eating (6,7). The recommended amount of fiber is 25-38 grams per day. Examples of fiber-rich foods include grains, vegetables, and legumes.
4. Don’t overly restrict
A common concern during the holidays is severely restricting calories. A primary reason for restricting calories is weight loss. However, overly restricting calories can not only impede your weight loss goals but increase your chances of nutrient deficiencies.
Some studies have suggested that consuming low-calorie diets can influence the number of calories your body burns. This means that it may be harder to lose weight than if you didn’t severely restrict. Some researchers argue that restricting calories may reduce the calories burned throughout the day, which may lead to regaining weight over time (8,9). Additionally, reducing your calorie intake may put you at risk of not getting sufficient nutrients, increasing your risk of acquiring nutrient deficiencies.
Overall, under consuming calories may be more harmful than beneficial in terms of weight loss and nutrients. It’s okay to consume a treat every now and then and be mindful of calorie density.
*If you have any concerns about calorie restrictions, it may be helpful to work with an online dietitian.
5. Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol is guaranteed to make an appearance at parties and celebrations. So can it be harmful? The short answer is yes but in excess. A potential drawback of too much or frequent consumption of alcohol is weight gain.
A systematic review looked at 31 studies on the effect of alcohol consumption on weight gain. This review suggested that heavy drinkers may be more likely to experience weight gain than light drinkers (10).
Another study suggested regular heavy drinking amongst young adults may increase the risk of being overweight and obese (11).
These findings could be due to the high calorie-content of alcohol. It could vary based on the serving size and type of alcoholic beverage. For instance, one 12-fluid ounces of regular beer has 155 calories, whereas 8-fluid ounces of tequila may have 252 calories.
An example of a recommended serving amount is having one to two drinks.
*Check out this online dietitian's journey of being alcohol-free for 30 days.
6. Drink water
Some studies have suggested that increasing water consumption may aid in weight loss (12,13). I'm a big fan of following up any alcoholic beverage with an entire glass of water. This prevents dehydration and slows the rate of drinking down. Keep that in mind the next time you're at a party, as it could save you a lot of calories.
7. Fight stress with vitamins
Did you know that you may lose vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc when you're stressed?
Some studies have looked at the effects of nutrients in response to stress. Vitamin C is used to produce cortisol, a stress hormone. So it makes sense for vitamin C to be depleted when you’re stressed (14,15). Magnesium may also be lost when stressed (16). A review looked at the effects of prolonged and excessive exercise (a form of physical stress) on the zinc levels of athletes. In this study, there was an increased loss of zinc in the athletes than the less active group (17). So next time you’re feeling stressed, eat foods rich in magnesium, zinc, or vitamin C.
The holiday season is also unfortunately peak cold and flu season. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that plays many important roles for your immune system. It may help reduce your risk of acquiring infections and aid in recovering from sickness (18,19,20). Some delicious vitamin C sources include oranges, bell peppers, and guava.
Check out the list below:
Magnesium: cooked spinach, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds
Zinc: lentils, hemp seeds, fortified cereals, toasted wheat germ
Vitamin C: strawberries, kale, pineapple, Brussel sprouts
Partnering with an online dietitian can be a beneficial way to learn more about how to incorporate these stress-fighting foods into your diet.
Reduce fatigue by ensuring you have adequate sources of iron, vitamin D, and B12
A few major micronutrients, when deficient, may be associated with fatigue such as iron, vitamin D, and B12.
There are two forms of iron: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is mainly found in animal-based sources and is more efficiently absorbed in the body. However, non-heme iron, mainly found in plant-based foods like spinach, may not be well absorbed. Despite this information, non-heme iron could be more absorbed when it’s paired with vitamin C sources. A good example of a vitamin C pairing and non-heme iron source is raw bell peppers and spinach.
Boost immune strength with the sunshine vitamin!
Of course I'm talking about Vitamin D. During the winter months, vitamin D may be difficult to acquire due to the lack of sunlight. Luckily, there are some sources such as fortified plant milk, sun-exposed mushrooms, or supplements.
As for vitamin B12, it’s one of the only nutrients that is not found naturally in plants. However, there are some sources available. Those sources include fortified foods like cereal, nut milk, nutritional yeast, or B12 supplements.
*This is not medical advice so please speak to your online dietitian or doctor about your unique dietary needs.
8. Exercise to increase energy levels
If you’re feeling tired, exercise may seem like the last thing on your mind. However, it may help boost your energy levels. Many studies conducted on different age groups have suggested that exercise ranging from light to vigorous exercise can reduce participants' level of fatigue (21,22,23).
The recommended amount of exercise for adults is 75 to 150 minutes per week. This level of physical activity can range in intensity based on gender, dietary goals, and weight. If you’re feeling tired, you could try your favorite exercise.
*Click here to join a virtual yoga session conducted by an online dietitian.
9. Focus on other aspects of the celebration
It’s not actually about food at the end of the day. So try to take some time to enjoy yourself and the people you're with. Focus on the experience as a whole, rather than the food. Whether that's socializing with your closest friends, expressing gratitude, or laughing with your family until your stomach hurts, the options are endless. After all, it’s about being in the present moment as often as we can and finding joy in that place.
10. Be authentic
Lastly, be your authentic self. As a plant-based eater, it could mean bringing a lentil loaf or tofurkey for the holidays. It could also mean sticking to your values when someone challenges them at the table. Regardless of your dietary needs and preferences, be yourself, and consider how you can navigate the holidays more mindfully this year.
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