8 Ways to Escape Holiday Land Mines

Healthy Habits for Holiday Season

The “holidays” have become defined as the stretch of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  We use this time to indulge in eating, drinking, and spending.  It’s a dangerous 6 weeks, especially for those with diabetes who are working diligently to keep their blood sugars under control.  Think of all the extra eating and drinking that can be accomplished in that time frame.

In fact, the average weight gain in this 6-week period is 5 pounds or more. Incorporating the following healthy behaviors into your lifestyle can help you navigate through the common land mines, not only during the holidays, but all year long.  The first and most important behavior to adopt is mindfulness.

1. Mindful Indulgence means making the conscious decision to have the food by choice rather than by impulse

  • Stop yourself from referring to foods as “bad and good” or “can’t eat and can eat”.  You can eat any food you want or don’t want to for that matter.  Just make the conscious decision to do it.
  • Be aware of your choices. Give yourself permission to eat and ENJOY the food. 
  • Decide ahead of time.  If you know you are going to a party and there will be really good desserts there, plan in your head that you will have a little something and when it comes time for dessert, look at the options and make a conscious decision as to what and how much you are going to have. You can still enjoy dessert if you practice portion control! 

2. Eat on schedule

  • Maintaining a healthy eating schedule helps to prevent high and/or low blood sugars and to prevent cravings.  
  • Combining foods that are high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables and whole gains, and foods containing heart-healthy fat and protein are the best combination for keep blood sugar stable and minimizing cravings. 
  • Eating every 3-4 hours allows for mindful eating rather than mindless eating.

3. Create an accountability plan

  • Start this before the event.  It’s easy to get sucked into parties, dinners, and work events so create a plan that will help you be accountable to your goals.  You don’t ever want to get to the point where you throw caution to the wind.  By that point, the damage is already done. Accountability will help prevent that.  
  • Determine what your goals are for this six week period.  It might be to not skip meals, maintain your weight or eat out no more than 2x per week.  Once you’ve determined your goals, come up with an accountability plan. For instance:
  • Weighing yourself once per week.
  • Keeping a food record.  (Remember, you’re writing your own script.  What I mean is, this doesn’t have to be your traditional food record.  It can be anything you want it to be to help you stay on track.  It can be in a form of a checklist or a list of goals for the day.)

4. Don’t take a vacation from your everyday staples – fruit, vegetables, yogurt, lean protein

  • It’s a busy time of year but in an effort to gain extra time, don’t forget to fill the fridge with your healthy staples.  Take note of the type of foods that you usually have and make sure you stay stocked throughout the holiday period.  Being bombarded with holiday events with an empty fridge at home is a lethal combination.  It will be nearly impossible to make mindful decisions.

5. Have power over portions

  • A critical component to eating the foods you love, but not overdoing it, is portion control. Over the next week, take note of the portions you eat.  
  • Use measuring cups or even a scale, if you have it.  This is an exercise that should be done periodically as a reminder of what healthy portions look like.  
  • For example, if you traditionally have lasagna on your Christmas Eve menu, take out a dry measuring cup and see what a one cup size would look like. That would be a realistic portion.  
  • Cooking or baking? Use muffin tins or even mini muffin tins to make portioned controlled food items.  Lasagna, baked ziti, mini apple pies or even quiche cups for Christmas morning are all an example for way to eat your favorite foods within a healthy portion size.
  • Think about your holiday menu or the food you may bring to a party and consider making it in muffin tins for a perfect portion size.

6. Entertaining rules of thumb

  • Many times, patients happily tell me that when they are hosting, they barely eat.  If this sound like you, don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly.  Remember the general rule is to eat a meal or snack every 3 or 4 hours and don’t ever go more than 5-6 hours without eating!  
  • Even if you’re doing the cooking make sure you set some time aside to eat something, even if it’s a simple meal of scrambled eggs. 
  • Make sure you offer foods that you know will be easy for you to eat as you mingle.  Veggies and hummus, chicken or beef satay, meatballs made with lean beef are all great options.
  • If you are going to a party, never, ever go hungry or save up your carbs in preparation for overeating.  
  • Try to get an idea of what the food situation will be at the party.  Is it dinner? Appetizers? If the party starts at 7pm and only appetizers are being served then you will want to consider having something before you go.  
  • Leftovers can sabotage your whole day. If it is not part of your healthy eating regimen, send it away or throw it away.  

7. Exercise 150 minutes

  • Staying with an exercise routine, even if it is modified from your usual routine, is essential.  The goal is a minimum of 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes, 5 days per week.
  • If you are not doing 150 minutes, it’s never too late to start exercising.  A common mistake people make is having the all or nothing attitude.  They planned to go to the gym then something comes up so they blow it off because they can’t do the amount of time intended. If your intention was to go for an hour but your plans changed, go for whatever length of time you have.  That 15 or 20 minutes is more than the 0 you would have done if you blew it off all together.   
  • Ask for a fitness tracker, like a Fitbit, as a Hanukah or Christmas present. This is a great way to keep the motivation full speed ahead.

8. Find a support system that helps you maintain your goals

  • Many people don’t realize the importance support plays during times of stress.  Almost everyone falls victim to emotional eating at one time or another.  This leads to mindless eating.  Others may eat out of boredom which is another trigger for mindless eating.
  • Finding a support system to help you channel your emotions and become more focused is key. 
  • Find a friend, parent, spouse or look to a therapist, educator or a counselor you can talk to.   
  • Support can also be taking a yoga class, doing mediation or being part of group or community either in person or online.
  • Stay connected.  Being in constant contact with someone, a group or with a community of people who are on a similar path is another way to have accountability.  Online programs work well, especially over the holidays when our time is limited. 

Enjoy the holiday season and make sure to take care of yourself!

Annie Fanberg, MS, RD, CDE
Fit4D Certified Diabetes Educator