Enjoying Holiday Foods Guilt-Free and Getting Your Nutrition Back on Track Afterward

As the Andy Williams song reminds us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This sentiment should extend to the meals and snacks we share with family and friends, but for many people, the holidays may bring up feelings of guilt or shame around eating choices. In this week’s post, let’s explore how to positively change your attitude to season’s eatings and then take a healthy transition into the New Year.

Struggling with eating around the holidays? You aren't alone.

One of the reasons that Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all the time in between can become so tricky from an eating standpoint is that many people cut certain things out of their diet completely for most of the year. Then when the holidays roll around, it’s a free-for-all, as if they fear never having these “bad” things again once the season ends. So instead of incorporating favorites foods into their diet, they overindulge for a few weeks, which can lead to feelings of guilt during and after the holidays.

What’s a more constructive way to think?

Labeling foods or drinks as “good” or “bad” is subjective and not something that I recommend. While it’s true that some options are healthier than others, eating a little of most things is very unlikely to torpedo your overall health or performance, particularly if you maintain a balanced approach to eating well overall throughout the year. 

At my house, we have a tradition of making frosted sugar cookies around the holidays. We eat a few, freeze some more, and relish every last bite. You should give yourself permission to enjoy whatever food-based traditions your family has created. If you’ve normalized these treats, then you won’t go through mental anguish, will savor the flavor and experience more, and won’t feel pushed to overeat something that you’ve labeled as forbidden.

What can I do to avoid overeating or binging?

One of the common challenges many people share about their holiday nutrition is sporadically going too far and over-consuming their festive favorites. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find out that this is preceded by them not eating enough or foregoing a meal altogether because they’re expecting to binge. Going too long without eating will inevitably compromise your willpower and planning to over consume will set you up to do just that. Even if a relative is planning a huge family feast at lunchtime, make sure that you eat a normal breakfast – because skipping that meal will leave you too hungry and more likely to overeat at your holiday gathering.

How else can I keep my nutrition steady through the holidays?

Another mental challenge that seasonal eating presents is that people can come to expect a drastic yo-yo effect every time Christmas approaches. First comes cramming cookies, cakes, and other sweet treats for a few weeks, quickly followed by rigid self-denial or cutting out certain types of foods (i.e. gluten, sugar, dairy, etc). This sharp contrast can create emotional & mental anguish, undermine positive habits you’ve spent all year building up and also mess with your hunger cues and metabolism.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like that. If you can keep nailing the basics of nutrition that you normally stick to, you’ll have a much better holiday experience and avoid unnecessary upheaval. Tips for eating during the holiday season:

  • Continue to eat 3 meals per day + snacks
  • Stick to regular eating times, as much as possible
  • Include carbohydrates, protein & fat at each meal
  • Fuel before and after runs & workouts
  • Don't let yourself get too hungry
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy holiday foods

How can I incorporate holiday foods into my diet?

While your nutritional habits, routines, and structures can help you stay consistent, these don’t have to be overly rigorous. Give yourself a little grace and deliberately build in a bit of flexibility. One way to do this is to get creative with your eating before and after training. Instead of throwing down a couple of graham crackers or pieces of toast before heading out on a run, you could occasionally sub in a cookie or two (read more on why you shouldn’t be scared of carbs). 

And after you’ve finished your training session, remember that you need post-run fuel.  So as long as you’re including some post-workout protein – which could come from holiday meal leftovers like quiche – this could be another time where a holiday treat can come in handy to serve as your post-workout carbohydrates. Once you’ve changed your mindset, you should be able to fit these foods into a performance nutrition approach.

These are just examples of ways that you may choose to add holiday foods in, but there are no rules. Eat a piece of pie after dinner and eat a Christmas cookie (or more) with your children. Enjoy your time without stress around food.

What should I do if I eat too much?

This comes back to having the right perspective and allowing yourself a little latitude. Remember that you’re a person, not a robot, and accept that while it might make you feel overly full, one gigantic meal or snacking session isn’t the end of the world. If you eat too much one evening, don’t deny yourself breakfast or lunch the next day to try and compensate. Instead, just get back on track with your regular routine.

How should I approach eating in the New Year?

Once the celebrations are over, don’t get stuck in a cycle of regret and self-shaming. Instead, be honest with yourself about the practices that you might have drifted away from, and then return to them. Refocus on eating to fuel your performance and health, feel good, and power toward your goals. Get back to nutrition fundamentals, like planning three solid meals per day, adding healthful snacks as needed to support your activity level, and fueling before and after every run and strength session.

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.