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  • by Lisa Rice, HC

Staying Healthy Through The Holidays - Navigating Social Pressures

You’ve made some changes and committed to a healthier diet and lifestyle.

Congratulations! Change can be challenging but you’re doing it, one step at a time, one bite at a time. Then, BOOM! Before you know it the holiday season has arrived in full force.

There are parties and invitations, family gatherings and work events. And that means super rich food, processed sugar, dairy and treats galore. Around. Every. Corner. From candies and cookies suddenly showing up daily at the office, to cheese platters, roasted meats, pies and cakes at those holiday parties.

The temptation is to give in to the pressure from co-workers, friends, and family who’ll say “It’s The Holidays! You can get back on track January 1st.”

You don’t want to be THAT PERSON who declines the invitation or the food someone has prepared. You just want to get along and enjoy the festive times with friends and family.

So what do you do? How do you navigate the holiday season?

Here are some tips and tricks sure to keep you on track while still celebrating the joy of the season with your family, friends and colleagues:

Remember your WHY: Why are these new life changes important to you? Keep it as a reminder on your phone or a post-it on the bathroom mirror. Some of us are addressing a health issue we know we can reverse with the right changes, or we’re simply determined to trade our usual sluggishness and bloating for energy and joy. Maybe we just want to fit into that favorite party outfit.

Taking responsibility for your health and wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle are praise-worthy decisions in your life. Sometimes these decisions make other people uncomfortable because they don’t understand the process or they might take it as a reflection of their own lifestyle.

Plan Ahead: Anticipate questions/comments/criticisms you may encounter, like: “Are you getting enough protein?” Disarm them by asking questions back like “What is the right amount of protein?” Most people can’t answer these questions!

Develop a script for those social situations. Focus on the benefits you’re receiving (more energy, better sleep, effortless weight loss) and tell them “I am trying it out and it seems to be working for me, we’ll see…” Practice your scripts until you are very comfortable delivering them.

Be proactive: Make suggestions on where to go or where to eat - like a restaurant with plant-based options instead of a local greasy spoon.

Eat a healthy snack before you go out; a salad, a cup of veggie soup, some fruit like an apple or some melon. This will keep you satiated so you don’t show up to the gathering hungry and therefore are able to make smart choices with ease. Also, keep healthier options at work to avoid those candy bowls like grapes and apples, veggies and hummus, a few squares of dairy free dark chocolate or some date and nut truffles.

Drink lots of water before you go out and between meals: Aim to drink water (or sparkling water with a slice of fruit) and keep the alcohol to a minimum. Sparkling water with berries, sliced fruit and fresh herbs like mint or basil make great celebratory mocktails instead of or in between those holiday spirits.

Preload your meals with veggies and fruit: If you have the option of a salad before your meal, got for it. Or if there’s a crudite or fruit platter, aim to have at least a serving of these before dinner or your next course.

Grab a dessert or salad plate before you head to the buffet - studies show if you fill up a small plate you will feel full faster. Your eyes will see a full plate of food and it will send signals to your brain that you are eating plenty.

Crowd your plate with vegetables and fruit and eat smaller amounts of those richer foods - this way you will not be depriving yourself of anything but you will still be getting lots of fiber and water and lower calorie dense foods that help you feel sated.

Preview the menu of the restaurant where the gathering is being held (and if necessary contact the restaurant ahead of time and inquire if they can accommodate your needs). These days most places offer a plant-based option or something that can be easily and deliciously modified (like a pasta or pizza, hold the cheese and add veggies).

Offer to contribute a dish to your host’s dinner or party and perhaps choose a richer more decadent plant-based option than usual like a mushroom and walnut pate, a lentil Shepherds pie, or a plant-based lasagna. It’s a great way to introduce people to a delicious plant-based meal and you will have something you can indulge in as well!

Focus on things other than food: So many of our social gatherings are centered around food, it’s part of our cultural upbringing. But other fun group activities can provide the same connection you’re seeking like gathering around the fire to play board and word games; bundling up and going on a scenic hike; bowling; heading to your local yoga or dance studio, or hosting a fun movie night.

Connect with a family member or friend with a hug and conversation, exchanging gifts, lively conversation and sing-alongs - there is so much more to the holidays than food!

Exercise: move your body! Going for a walk, taking a yoga class, jumping on your bike or hitting the gym, even for a quick blast will help you feel better. Getting your heart rate up, even for 10 minutes can help keep cortisol (the stress hormone) under control.

Take some quiet time to yourself: Go for a walk, meditate, get a massage, read a book and get plenty of sleep. Keeping stress low and getting adequate sleep will help you make healthier food choices. And if you eat an unhealthy meal, don’t beat yourself up. Just follow it with a healthy one. You’ve got this! Remember, tomorrow is a new day.

Some helpful resources:

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