3 secrets to healthy holiday eating

Food is more than just fuel. Meals help solidify relationships and traditions, so it’s no surprise that particular foods have become interwoven with holiday memories. However, with today’s focus on dieting and weight loss, this emphasis on food often leads to anxiety and stress. As a dietitian, I often see patients struggle with guilt while questioning how to maintain healthy habits during the holidays.  Below, the dietitians from Kaiser Permanente Washington’s WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Program share how to enjoy the abundance of the holidays while maintaining broader goals for health and well-being.

1. Honor your hunger and fullness

Endless appetizers, stressful situations, and an “eat it while you can” mentality all contribute to mindless eating. Often, this is justified by a commitment to increased dieting and exercise after the holidays. This perspective may lead to yo-yo dieting and even greater weight gain, not to mention increased stress. One way to avoid these pitfalls and enjoy the holidays without fear of going overboard is to practice mindful eating guided by hunger signals.

In order to follow these cues:

  • Avoid arriving to the holiday meal overly hungry or full. While skipping breakfast to save room for extras has become popular, such tactics increase the likelihood of overeating.
  • Note your fullness throughout the meal, perhaps rating it on a scale of 1-10. Maybe you choose to stop just when you are approaching a full feeling. On the other hand, you might decide to eat to a greater point of fullness than usual during this special occasion. The choice should be intentional. You should feel empowered to refuse food pushers or ask for a container for leftovers.

2. Savor the experience

Rather than avoiding your favorite holiday foods completely, mindfully selecting foods that are both satisfying and nourishing will help you to avoid the cycle of restricting and binging. Truly savoring favorite foods gives permission to pass on other items that may not bring the same level of satisfaction. Additionally, this approach eliminates stress, which only contributes to binging. Take note of the flavors and textures of your favorite foods, giving yourself time to really enjoy them. Acknowledge your response to foods without judgement and allow your hunger and satiety cues to guide portions.

3. Establish lifelong habits

Cultivate these mindful eating habits year-long, not just in an effort to avoid weight gain during the holidays. Developing a healthy relationship with food takes practice.  As dietitians for the government’s nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), we help families develop these techniques while providing vouchers for nutritious foods.  To find out if you qualify, visit http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/WIC/Eligibility or call 206-326-2060.

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By Elizabeth Hulbrock, MPH, RD, CD
WIC and MSS Dietitian

The Women, Infants and Children’s program (WIC) is a supplemental food and nutrition program for pregnant women, new moms, and children 0-5 years of age. Through WIC, women and children receive financial assistance in purchasing food, counseling and information on healthy eating, breastfeeding support and information and referrals to health care and other community resources. Eligibility is based on income; more information can be at www.doh.wa.gov/YouAndYourFamily/WIC/Eligibility. WIC is provided at the following Kaiser Permanente locations: Burien, Capitol Hill, Rainier Valley, and the Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Clinic. To learn more or to schedule an appointment please call (206) 326-2060.