10 Healthy Holiday Eating Habits
Author: Lentine Alexis
Festive parties, gatherings with friends, yule-tide cheer and all the extra pie that seems to linger in the refrigerator long after the feasts have ended. There are one-million and one ways (read: excuses) waiting to derail your healthy eating habits this holiday. But, there are also a but a whole lot of ways to keep your appetite trained on fresh, delicious options that don’t require you to sacrifice the celebrating, not even for a moment.
As a chef and athlete myself, I hear all too athletes talk about “bad foods,” and how they “earned” this or that treat all together too often. Foods haven’t done anything wrong, but our poor eating habits and unbalanced relationships with food can be really toxic - especially during the holidays.
Our bodies need - and crave - real foods. Some of them are decadent (especially when we’ve pushed our bodies hard,) and others are basic: foods with fat, salt, some sugar and carbohydrates are all necessary for rebuilding bodies at work. At rest, we need fewer of these foods (if we need them at all) but during the holiday season they’re on every table, around every corner. Navigating the holidays as a healthy athlete means balancing the cravings your body has, with the celebratory meals on offer and the sometimes-societal permission to over-indulge. While there is something healthy about letting go of regimen a bit and letting yourself enjoy this special time of year, there isn’t anything healthy about “too much:” whether it’s running, riding, wine or pie.
1. Turn cocktails together into cooking together
For your next holiday party or spirited soireé, consider getting together to cook with friends and family instead of just cajoling over cocktails. The task of cooking a meal together will give everyone something to do with their hands (besides just pop snacks into mouths,) and the process of cooking feeds the soul and will satisfy you in ways that appetizers and nibbles just can’t.
Photo: Jordan Clarke Haggard
2. Drink! Drink! Drink! (And stay hydrated!)
This is a great rule to practice all the time (as you know!). But staying hydrated is one of the best ways to keep your appetite in check. Drink water (or a light electrolyte drink like this recipe) to keep hydrated during the busy holiday hustle, and then remember to drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages when the party is on. If you forget this last trick, be sure to drink a glass or two of water before going to bed.
3. Pitch packaged foods
Packaged cookies, chips, crackers, meals and other convenience foods are pumped full of ingredients your body doesn’t recognize and can’t use as athletic fuel. Plus, they typically contain hidden preservatives, sodium, fat and sugar calories you don’t need. Whether stocking up your own pantry, or navigating the spread at a soireé stick to the items you recognize and know were made from scratch.
Photo: Kevin Scott Batchelor
4. Make it from scratch
Instead of buying packaged products, aim to make your menu from scratch. Choose recipes and dishes that are easy to pull together, or that challenge your kitchen cred. Things like pie crust and dip for vegetables and crackers are easy to make with just a few simple ingredients, and trying something new for guests or special meals might mean working a new, showstopping recipe into your regular repertoire.
5. Keep on top of training
Sure, holiday time can mean some schedules that are off your typical kilter, but with a little bit of forethought, fitting in your regular exercise routine (or at least bits of it,) will help you feel fit, in touch with your body and will keep your appetite in check and in-tune. Squeeze in an early morning run, hike or bike ride before festivities begin. Or, if that won’t work with your celebratory schedule, encourage family and friends to go for a walk, hike or stretch together. .
6. Eat colorfully
Many of the most traditional holiday dishes are rich, indulgent...and brown. Pie crust, mashed potatoes, stuffing...these foods are delicious and can be made nutritiously, but lack the important nutrients that more colorful foods bring. As you’re planning your holiday meals, or surveying the celebratory spread, look for colors and aim to fit as many of them as you can on your plate. Whip up a salad with kale and brussel sprouts to fit in those greens. Add a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds or slices of citrus fruits to add flavor and gem-tone colors. Roast carrots, beets or cauliflower, try mashing sweet potatoes, marinating mushrooms or tomatoes to really boost the rainbow on your holiday table.
7. Respect your mealtime rituals
Getting some exercise and making wise menu choices can make a massive difference keeping your holiday healthy, but navigating your holiday appetite can be more challenging than just having salad on offer. When the holidays hit, its all together too easy to skip meals, snack through the day, and feel out of tough with your intuitive appetite. As you’re planning your holiday events, do your best to keep to regular mealtime rituals. If you typically eat dinner at 7pm but the party starts at 6:30pm, try eating a light, colorful meal before you depart. If dinner time is at 4pm, be sure to eat breakfast at your regular time and a light snack at the same time you might eat lunch. If you typically start your evening wind down at 9:30 pm, remind yourself to consider stopping the celebrating about that time so you can get a good nights’ rest. The party of the holiday season is (likely) going to be at full tilt again in the morning.
Photo: Kevin Scott Batchelor
8. Leave plenty of room for dessert
Eating until you’re uncomfortably full is never healthy, no matter how many hours of training you did earlier in the day. Instead, try to eat until you’re just satiated -- not one bite more. This is a good practice all year round, not only when indulgent or rich foods are on offer. Learning to eat just until you’re satiated can take some practice, but the best way to start is by leaving a few bites of food left on your plate when you’re starting to feel full. When the time to enjoy dessert comes around, ask yourself if the dish is something you enjoy, and something you truly have an appetite for without becoming full. If the answer is yes, consider having a bite or two…
9. Indulgence wisely
Instead of telling yourself that there are “good foods,” and “bad foods,” embrace that the season is full of indulgences and allow yourself a few. Before arriving at that party, sitting down to dinner or planning that menu, pick a few special items that are only available at this time of year, your grandmother’s candied yams or those favorite gingerbread cookies for example. Then, fill your plate with healthy items and enjoy those special treats mindfully, in moderation, but completely.
10. Be flexible and fall into the spirit of the season
We all look forward to the holidays, and even if we could avoid the “temptations” of this time of year, would we really want to? Instead of beating yourself up about indulging in your favorite culinary traditions, plan to be a little bit more flexible this time of year. Instead of restricting yourself from those special desserts or that cocktail, allow yourself to enjoy when the mood truly strikes. You’ll be less likely to over-do-it, and the more ready you’ll be to face your next training session (and the year ahead) in balance.
Lentine Alexis is a curious, classically trained chef and former pro athlete. I use my bicycle, raw life and travel experiences and organic ingredients to inspire athletes and everyone to explore, connect and expand their human experiences through food. Follow her on Instagram @lentinealexis.