The holidays are a time for gathering with family and friends, but these events often come with an onslaught of sugary treats and other foods you might not normally eat (think hidden preservatives and additives, dairy, gluten, etc.). It’s OK to bend a little during this time to enjoy traditions without feeling guilt-ridden, but having a strategy can be helpful in keeping you on track.
This holiday season, try out these six tips to make the most of the seasonal eats:
1. Enjoy quality over quantity.
In “Guilt-Free Indulgences,” foodie Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl recommends picking items of quality and truly indulging, rather than limiting yourself to foods that may not satisfy you and leave you wanting more. She writes, “A glass of champagne and a dozen oysters at a cute restaurant will beat a pint of ice cream in front of the television any day.”
2. Plan what to say “no” to and how to say “no” before you attend.
The holidays tend to bring up a slew of emotions, and with unhealthy treats everywhere, the temptation to turn to food for comfort can be overwhelming. Jane Ogden, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Surrey in England and author of The Psychology of Eating, offers four ways to cope with holiday food: Honor yourself, prep your explanation, relax rigid rules, and eat mindfully. By making a plan before you attend an event, you will be able to eat in a balanced way — and enjoy the party.
3. Manage emotional indulgence in a healthy way.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl asks us to think of holiday food on a pain scale of 0–10. What sugary, unhealthy items would you rate at a 0? Pass on those, and instead choose the traditional nostalgic foods of friends and family that you would give a 9 or 10 — items that invoke memory and are important for you to participate in. She also suggests planning out healthy meals during the season, which can help keep you on track and from grabbing whatever you see.
4. Be willing to alter traditions.
Family traditions can be touchy — some family members desire to continue the rituals they created, and others may be ready to create new traditions. Carleton Kendrick, EdM, LCSW, offers some key strategies including planning ahead, honoring each other, remembering the core values of the family, getting input from everyone, and making time to talk. It might not be time to remove a food tradition altogether — but there are ways you can work toward adding to or altering it to fit everyone’s needs in a respectful way.
5. Tell your hosts ahead of time about your food limits and needs.
Letting your hosts know ahead of time will give them the opportunity to prepare something you can eat and enjoy. If your diet is even more strict and you need to bring your own food, talk with them before so you can bypass awkwardness, hurt feelings, and stress all around. For more on broaching this conversation, see “How to Cope With Loved Ones Who Don’t Support Your New, Healthy Lifestyle”
6. Choose to host the party.
When you host the party you can have more control over the food that is served. You can still provide some of your guests’ favorites — even if you won’t be eating it. Sandy Coughlin, creator of the Reluctant Entertainer blog and author of The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman’s Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality, reminds us that if you choose to host you can keep the party small and simple.