Nursing News

8 Simple Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating

Health Eating

Nutrition experts explain how to make friends with food during the holidays

By Megan M. Krischke, contributor

Food, and lots of it, is nearly synonymous with celebration. During the holiday season there are special treats set out at every gathering, in the break room and at the nurses’ station. The temptations can seem irresistible. 

At the same time, winter’s shorter days and colder weather cause many to cut down on outside physical activity and spend more time sitting inside and mindlessly grazing. 

It’s enough to affect a nurse’s health and well-being.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying some holiday indulgences, health experts point out that the trick is to choose those indulgences wisely.

“Be kind to yourself,” emphasized Andrea Krakower, wellness program manager at Scripps Health in San Diego. “I would so much rather see someone go for an extra piece of pie that their mom made and enjoy the experience of it, than deprive themselves or beat themselves up for eating it.”

“The best thing to do is to plan ahead and know when those big-ticket meals are going to happen,” she continued.

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“I try to have my clients think about non-food based holiday traditions like looking at lights and caroling,” explained Jessica Crandall, RD, a registered dietician in Englewood, Colo., and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Think about what you can bring to a holiday party that is healthy, like a veggie tray,” she continued. “And try to remember it is a holiday, not a ‘holimonth,’” 

“When the party is over, get back on track with your healthy lifestyle plan,” Crandall said. “When people get off track they struggle with getting back on track. Remind yourself of your goals.”

“Nurses are so good at caring for others, but they have to put themselves on that list,” she explained. “Taking time for meal planning and preparation and exercise are practical ways to care for yourself during the holidays.”

“I don’t eat any differently during the holidays,” remarked Holly Mosier, author of Stress Less, Weigh Less and creator of Holly Mosier’s 10 Minute Yoga DVD. 

“It only adds to your stress level when you try to diet,” Mosier said. She added, “Don’t skip any meals to save up calories for later—eat reasonably all through the day.”

“If I want a special treat, I don’t think about anything but enjoying the meal and dessert,” she explained. “While eating a balanced meal is generally good advice, if there is a food you are particularly excited about, it is okay to make a meal out of that food for a special occasion.”

8 Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating

Crandall, Krakower and Mosier offer nurses the following tips for holiday eating:

1. Add up the perfect plate: Crandall recommends portioning your plate with ¼ lean meat, ¼ vegetables, ¼ grains, and ¼ fruit. You can also add a small portion of lowfat or nonfat dairy.  Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for more information.

2. Drink more water. People often eat when they are actually thirsty, noted Crandall. Also, having a glass of water before you start eating can temper that ravenous feeling, added Mosier. 

3. Consider alcohol a starch. “If I am going to have a glass of wine with dinner, I’ll skip the bread or potatoes,” said Mosier.

4. Avoid finger foods. Krakower recommends making a rule against finger foods because they allow you to eat mindlessly. “Put food on a plate that you have to cut with a knife and a fork. This forces you to both put down your high calorie cocktail and sit down and actually focus on and enjoy what you are eating,” she said. 

5. Make healthy substitutions. Use diet soda in cocktails and nonfat, instead of whole milk, in mashed potatoes, for instance.

6. Practice portion control. Rather than cutting a pie into 8 pieces, cut it into 12. Have a couple bites of a treat to satisfy a craving.   

7. Get rid of the junk food. Crandall recommends avoiding places that have easy access to junk food, keeping temptations out of sight, re-gifting sweet treats or even pre-portioning favorite treats into individual containers. 

8. Say no to peer pressure. “There is often pressure to finish off a dish at dinner or to partake in dessert or to add a giant dollop of whipped cream to pie,” said Crandall. “Stand up for yourself and don’t let people push food on you.”

Being healthy through the holidays isn’t just about what we put in our mouths; it is also about staying active and managing the stress that can lead to overeating. READ MORE: 5 Tips to Stay Healthy as a Travel Nurse.

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