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By Haley Golich, MS, RD, LD

Last Updated: 11/12/23

Contrary to popular belief, the holiday season does not need to lead to poor eating, weight gain and a lack of focus towards your healthy and happy goals. In fact, there is no reason you can’t approach these final months of the year with the same energy and determination as the start of the year. In order to do so, check your perspective, then practice a few success-building strategies.

You do have choices

Identify when you are creating artificial roadblocks for yourself like:

“I cannot stop myself from snacking when there are so many appetizers around”

“There is no way I can stay on track with my eating on Christmas day”

“I just need to get through the holidays, then I will get back on track”

These statements are self-sabotaging and the result of flawed perspective. Rather than quitting before you even get started, recognize that you do have choices when it comes to making smarter decisions throughout the holidays. In fact, you are the only person who can make the choice to make smart nutritional decisions this holiday season.

In making the choice to thrive rather than survive this holiday season, consider changing your mindset from one of deprivation to one of gratitude. For example, your old mindset might leave you feeling like you were making a sacrifice if you didn’t eat those Christmas cookies you have always indulged in, but what would you really be sacrificing? How would the temporary satisfaction of this indulgence compare to being healthy and happy, full of self-confidence and self-esteem? With a mindset of gratitude, you will put a higher premium on what you do have rather than a perceived sacrifice that is largely rooted in what is often generational habit.

What is a generational habit? It is the idea that our years of tradition, or “the way things are,” are essentially unchangeable. It is the notion that you must have mashed potatoes, yams, and two slices of pie at Thanksgiving dinner. While this might be the norm for your family over the past 3 decades, recognize that it does not have to be this way, and shift your perspective to focusing on what truly makes you healthy and happy.

Here are a few practical strategies to consider.

Take it one day at a time

Changing long-standing habits can be challenging at first. Approach these changes one day at a time. Remind yourself daily of what is truly important to you in your life and make commitments in 24-hour blocks. After all, you can be successful with just about anything for just today, right?

Stick to your normal eating routine, especially breakfast

When you skip breakfast, you are much more likely to overeat later in the day. This becomes especially important during holiday meals, which typically provide a plethora of options for you to overeat. Rather than “saving up” your calories or appetite before a big meal, try eating your normal meals and snacks throughout the day. This will help prevent you from becoming overly hungry and overeating at your holiday meal.

Bring a healthy dish

It has never been more important to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Do not let a lack of healthy options keep you from making healthy choices. If the holiday table typically lacks nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, then take this as your opportunity to provide a healthy option.  Remember to fill half of your plate with vegetables!

Create non-food related traditions

If food is the center of most of your family holidays, consider trying a new activity instead. Sign your family up for a virtual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, schedule a special video call with family from out of town, or create a family game night on Christmas Eve. These events will create lasting memories and healthier habits that could benefit the whole family, as well as help you focus on what the holidays are really about—opportunities to share time with people we love and care about!

Be picky about your indulgences

Maybe you look forward to your sister’s famous apple pie every year at Christmas, and this is something that you do not want to part with. Great! There is no reason that you should not be able to enjoy something extra special if it is important to you. One treat will not break the bank in terms of your health goals. However, two months of poor eating decisions because “it’s the holidays” will. Enjoy the one to two treats that you really love in moderation, and stick to healthy options and portions of your other food choices.

This holiday season, consider what is really important to you in your life. Then, on a daily basis, make decisions that are consistent with these most meaningful goals. Address destructive generational habits and replace them with new ones that leave you healthy, happy and feeling good about yourself. Remember, the choice is yours.