Healthier Through the Holidays

by Valerie on November 3, 2010 · 7 comments

I don’t know about you, but 2010 went by so fast for me. Holidays are around the corner, and this is the first week of A Gluten-Free Holiday, hosted by Amy of Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free.  Now before my gluten-eating readers jump ship on this post, stick around for a minute longer.  Ricki of Diet, Dessert and Dogs (you’ve heard me rave about Ricki and her blog before) is hosting the first installment and the theme is healthier through the holidays which, let’s face it, is a timely topic for everyone.

Holidays Growing Up
I come from a family that celebrated holidays in a small way food-wise.  There would usually be two or three delicious meals around the holidays, with the big indulgence being a cheese platter.  Desserts typically involved fruit.  There was no tradition of holiday baking and there were few holiday parties that I remember.  In fact, I often felt like I missed out, despite the indulgences I enjoyed.

Holiday Indulgences
Starting in college, I made up for it. There were holiday parties and indulgences, and lots of sweets at Christmas.  Paradoxically, despite the fun, holidays got increasingly more stressful, with added travel, many holiday parties and either exams or work stress.  Later,  having to stay on top of my game at work while fitting in that many more holiday-related commitments felt overwhelming.  Several holidays in a row I would end up with the flu, including the first Christmas with my now-husband, visiting his family, and having an epic flu at their house (we still got married 6 months later so I guess I was not too awful a guest).   

Enough with the Holiday Insanity
One holiday season a couple of years back, I remember telling my husband I wanted enough with the crazy – and by that I meant it all – stressful travel, gift-shopping, too much food, too much dessert. This pre-dates me having to switch to completely gluten-free and dairy-free eating (and generally eating very mindfully and a near-vegan diet) in early 2009, but the theme of mindful and healthier holiday-ing continued once my diet changed to avoid foods to which I had intolerances.

My Tips For Healthier and Mindful Holidays

Change your mindset  – I know, easier said than done, but really, life will go on if you don’t try every single item on a table. I promise.  You won’t look back and say “I really wish I had had more of this or that” – focus on the company instead.
Enjoy whole foods   I am not big on all the tips to avoid over-indulging.  My approach is to really focus on whole foods and foods that taste good and be mindful about portions.  Even before I could no longer eat dairy and gluten, I avoided processed crackers and cheese and cookies made with processed ingredients, and focused instead on the real foodstuff and artisanal ingredients. That way I always felt more satisfied and was less likely to over-indulge.
Focus on veggies for snacks and appetizers– We all know the vegetable platter is helpful, but it is no fun on its own when you are watching everyone else having wheels of baked brie on baguettes.  Pair raw veggies with Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus , Chana Dal Hummus or White Bean Basil Hummus, or Lemony Spinach Pepita Pesto.  
Thanksgiving Hummus  
If you want something non-dip based (yes, I have quite an addiction to dips, year-round), try Butternut Squash Rounds with Miso, Walnuts and Tahini or Thai Red Curry Kale Chips.  Even before I had to avoid the crackers and cheese because of gluten and dairy intolerance, I would rely on veggies and dips creamy with tahini or olive oil to feel indulgent.

Plan for healthy side dishes – When preparing your holiday menu, plan for healthy sides such as this festive red and green Kale and Beans salad, Roasted Delicata, Moroccan-Spiced Squash, or delicious quinoa dishes (incidentally, considering my love for quinoa, my recipe index is seriously bereft of winter-appropriate quinoa. 2011 resolution – add more quinoa recipes).  That way, even if your main entree is heavy and indulgent, you can round it out with vegetables. 
Friday lunch 004

Arrive bearing gifts and food – If you are not celebrating at your home, always bring an appetizer and side dish (I would recommend hummus and the Kale and Beans salad as both can be made way ahead of time and travel well).

Plan to indulge – yes, I mean it, but indulge mindfully.  Recently, for my birthday, I had a couple of desserts over a month, and enjoyed them tremendously. This brings me to my next point about sweeteners.

Focus on natural sweeteners – sugar is sugar, but a maple-syrup- or agave-based dessert will still be less of a shock to you than a white-sugar based dessert. It might mean you have to bring dessert when visiting someone, but it will be worth it.  Might I suggest these Not-So-Faux After Eights made with agave and coconut palm sugar?

Know how to manage well-meaning food pushers, particularly if you have food intolerances This has happened to me less than with others, but I find that people can take food choices really personally, even when you have a good reason (like food intolerances or are required to be on a low-glycemic diet).  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard stories of people with relatives or friends who say “I made you this favorite casserole of yours, even though I know you are on this no-gluten thing. A little bit won’t hurt you,” (actually it will) or “Why do you stick to your diet no matter what? Potato chips don’t have gluten or dairy” (No, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to eat them for any number of reasons) or “I would feel really deprived if I ate like you did. You should have more food since you can’t have so many things on account of food allergies” (moments like that it helps to underline just how many foods you can eat and how much better you are feeling).  You get the idea – food is an emotional topic, especially around the holidays. Every well-meaning relative or friend is different in those situations, so make a plan and stick to it.  Also, speaking of plans:  
Have a plan for breakfast – I used to always be tempted with leftover dessert for breakfast around the holidays and had plenty of pie for breakfast, usually with a side of ice cream.  My solution starting a couple of years back was to bake healthy muffins around December 22 or so.  These muffins were whole-grain-based, sweetened with applesauce and small amounts of low-glycemic sweeteners, and full of nuts and/or seeds. I kept doing this after switching to a gluten-free diet, though initially I started with gluten-free oatmeal bars (like these Salty Almond Chocolate Oatmeal Bars).  I rarely eat muffins at breakfast during the year, so it feels indulgent to have a lovely muffin, whether with nut butter or as a side to a green smoothie. Your breakfast plan may be different, but have a plan that feels holiday-rrific and includes some amount of healthy grains and/or protein and/or fruit and/or vegetables.  Instead of muffins or oatmeal bars with bright green smoothies (my plan of choice), consider Apple Pie Overnight Oats or a Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie (both indulgent-tasting yet healthier), or your favorite balanced breakfast option that still does not scream of the everyday.

Manage stress – whether this means cutting back on travel, or not attending every holiday party, or taking extra days off to allow for more leisurely travel and holiday celebrating, find a way to reduce your time commitments around the holidays.

Practice self-care – Be sure to exercise, take long baths, do yoga, eat your greens or whatever else is self-care for you.

And finally,

Get enough SLEEP – because if you are well-rested, it is a lot easier to be mindful in all aspects of the holiday season, whether it is food, stress, travel or simply enjoying yourself. 

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pure2raw Twins November 4, 2010 at 1:02 am

Great tips and ideas! Love the last one – getting enough sleep. So true but yet I have a hard time getting it 😉


2 Johanna GGG November 4, 2010 at 11:59 am

Lovely post – great tips and interesting to hear about your trajectory with holiday foods – sounds like you now have it sorted


3 Wendy @Celiacs in the House November 4, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I have to agree with Johanna GGG and Pure2raw Twins, these are great tips and ideas to get through the holiday madness.


4 Ricki November 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

We are so much alike in our approach! And I totally love your point about what to tell "well-wishers" who try to push unhealthy food your way! :) Thanks for contributing to the GF Holiday event (and glad you mentioned the linky earlier–I had forgotten to add it!!). 😀


5 Tasty Eats At Home November 7, 2010 at 3:48 am

Very good tips! And that kale salad – wow, so pretty!


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