Holiday Meals

How To Survive (And Enjoy) The Holiday Season

November 24, 2013

It’s officially here. That amazing time of year that we love filled with family, friends, and traditions. But it’s not all fun and reindeer games. For people trying to make healthy food choices the Holidays can be a very emotionally trying time. In this two part blog series I want to talk a bit about how to make a holiday meal an enjoyable food experience where you can be relaxed and not have to worry anymore.

First off let’s talk about ways you can indulge safely and happily over the holidays. In our next post we’ll give you simple tips you can use when you’re out to keep on the ‘healthy food’ track.

It’s not the Holiday meals that you should be worried about.

This time of year I get questions almost daily about how to eat healthier Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. My clients are very concerned about what to do at their big holiday meal each year. So, as their nutrition coach, what do I tell those people?

I say, ‘enjoy your dinner. Don’t worry about that one meal.’

That is quickly followed by:  ‘but don’t forget, that holiday meal doesn’t last 2 weeks long.’

I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times. One meal will never be your undoing. The same topic gets brought up around my clients’ birthdays. Inevitably they ask me if they can have a slice of cake. Sure. Of course they can. Just as the Christmas dinner isn’t the problem at this time of year, it also isn’t the one slice of cake on your birthday that is the problem or the one birthday dinner. Where the trouble rises is when people schedule birthday events with their family, their coworkers, their friends and their second cousins and at each event feel as though they can indulge as if it were their last meal. If you took liberty of cake, wine and four-cheese fettuccini at all of those meals you can see how things could potentially get out of hand.

The same is true for the holiday season, except it’s multiplied tenfold because everyone is celebrating for weeks on end. There are work parties, family events, and it seems like everything set up for kids to do involves hot chocolate and some sort of gingerbread.

It’s not reasonable to think that we can indulge constantly. We know that. But on the other hand, if we restrict ourselves constantly, eventually our willpower will run out, and the damn of self-restraint we’ve built will be washed away. This is where binges are born.  Not only that, but if you have yourself on an all-or-nothing system, even if you do end up eating food off-program you won’t even enjoy it because you’ll be too busy beating yourself up.

So what do we do? How do we enjoy a good holiday meal and festivity of the holiday season without completely throwing in our proverbial health towels?

Let start here and check out what our options are. Pretend you are at a party. You see a Christmas cookie that you want. You really want it. It’s the kind of thing that cookie dreams are made of. BUT you know it isn’t on plan.

There are four ways this can go down.


You don’t eat it. You feel good about your decision and kind of like you’re a hero. You move on and enjoy the party.


You don’t eat it. You spend the rest of the party thinking about that cookie. When your friends talk to you, all you hear coming out of their mouths is ‘blah blah cookie...blah cookie blah blah...’.


You eat the cookie. You spend the rest of the party beating yourself up for ‘having such poor willpower’ and either, eat 3 more because ‘you’ve already messed up’ or just mentally berate yourself wrecking the rest of your evening. You don’t even enjoy what you’ve eating because you feel too guilty.


You eat the cookie. You enjoy every bite. You move on and enjoy the party. It’s done. It’s fine. No further binging ensues.

In an ideal world we would all opt for #1 and sometimes it totally happens and we have this smug sense of self-satisfaction. But let’s be honest here, it’s not always that easy. In my mind, the worst option is number three. Not only have you gone off your ‘healthy goal’ track, but you didn’t even enjoy it.

When it comes to lifelong good nutrition, the goal shouldn’t be denial. Instead we should focus on moderation and enjoyment. This doesn’t always mean enjoyment in terms of eating. Too often we equate happiness with food but they don’t have to be exclusive. Enjoyment doesn’t only mean eating, it also means living in a healthy body that you love which means that sometimes we have to forego the immediate pleasure of indulgent food, for longer term gain. On the other hand, food can provide joy and happiness in social settings. How do we balance all of these ideas? Is it even possible?

Of course.

In a perfect world, our social events wouldn’t all evolve around food. But realistically this is a hard thing to change for everyone in your social circles. So, we need to figure out a plan to enjoy those events with minimal mental anguish.

The most important strategy is to set yourself up with a plan ahead of time. When social gatherings are approaching, sit down ahead of time and set yourself reasonable guidelines. You know you can’t indulge at every social gathering, so pick and choose which ones matter most to you. Some things you can ask yourself include, is this a once-in-a-lifetime event? Is the food something I like enough to make it worth indulging over? Do you only get your mother’s mashed potatoes once a year? Has Christmas Eve eggnog been a family tradition since before you can remember? Is baking and sharing bites of a gingerbread house with your grandson something that really matters to you? So often we indulge in moments that we don’t even really think consciously about. Figure out what moments matter to you and then enjoy every last minute of them.

No one wants to spend their holidays enlisting in a war against their body. There is no enjoyment in things that cause you pain or regret afterwards. Pick the indulgences that matter most to you, and forget the ones that you don’t even really enjoy to begin with. Remember Christmas dinner isn’t what makes the holiday food season so threatening, it’s the 14 other holiday gatherings before Christmas that will do you in.

Now that you’ve decided which holidays you will indulge at, what strategies can we use to make sure you don’t reach for the unworthy snacks at the rest of the events? Check out the next installment of this series for some tips and tricks that will work for you!

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holiday meals


Rachel Girardi, MsC graduated with a Masters in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario in 2007. Her philosophy is that fitness, nutrition and lifestyle cannot be looked at in isolation. She combines her love of fitness and good food to help her clients improve their health and the quality of their lives. Her main goal is to figure out how to fit “healthy” into your life while still letting you live it.

Read more articles by Rachel!