One bite at a time

Five tips that will allow you to eat well during the holiday season - without worrying about your weight

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Wave, November / December 2013

As the holiday season approaches, thoughts turn to gatherings with friends and family.

And that usually means plenty of food, drink and good times - followed by the inevitable resolutions to start dieting early in the New Year.

Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy the holiday festivities without having to worry about your weight. Here are five strategies that will ensure you have fun and enjoy your food while navigating the holiday dining season this year. 

Eat intuitively

The intuitive eater tunes in to their internal cues of hunger and fullness.

A first step in working toward intuitive eating is to eat more regularly, consuming a mix of meals and snacks throughout the day. Fuelling our bodies every three to five hours can support good energy levels, and level blood sugars and moods.

Stress around the holidays may affect our moods, and being hungry does, too. Many people often don't notice their hunger until they feel starved and "hangry" (hungry+angry). This can lead to overeating or binge eating. But studies have also shown that those who engage in intuitive eating can reduce their risk for these problems.

It is important to maintain this approach through the holiday season. Avoid the temptation to starve yourself in advance of the big holiday meal in order to have "more room" in your stomach. This approach will only cause you to consume more food than you may have wanted, and leave you feeling awful, physically and emotionally. If you begin your meals "ready to eat" instead of "starving" you will feel less stress and be more likely to eat the amount and types of food that work best for you.

You might decide to have another bite of this or that, or finish your plate just because it tastes good. That's okay. Part of normal eating behaviour is being flexible, eating a variety of foods and not being "perfect" with our eating.

One bite at a time

Mindful eating is the act of engaging all our senses while eating and being in the present moment with our food. This can help us enjoy and savour our food more, and figure out which foods we don't enjoy but sometimes eat out of habit or without awareness.

This approach can be useful for ensuring that we are eating the amount of food that is right for us, but it can also be helpful when partaking in pastries and chocolates. We often worry about how much we are eating, especially when we eat sweets. When we are eating mindfully, without judgment, we eat the amount of sweets that work for us.

Before a meal, snack or treat, take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and relax. Get ready to enjoy your meal, snack or dessert. Start with one mindful bite.

It may not be realistic to eat a whole meal mindfully over the holidays, but the more we can connect with our food and our bodies while eating, the more we will enjoy it and feel better - physically and emotionally.

While eating, check in with yourself. Reflect on how you are feeling. Are you still enjoying the food? Are you still hungry?

Maybe you sense that you are no longer hungry but would enjoy another serving of your aunt's famous casserole because it is so delicious. If so, savour and enjoy. Part of normal eating is being flexible and making decisions that work for us in the moment.

Healthy communication

Sharing food can often be a sign of love and affection. That's why it is often difficult to tell a loved one that you are full or would not like any more to eat.

The trick is to communicate your wishes in a way that honours your needs in the moment and respects the person offering the food.

We likely have all tried saying, "Thank you, but I'm full."

If that doesn't work, share how much you appreciate the offer and that you are full but you would be interested in taking some home. This could make for a great, ready-to-go evening snack or something you can freeze for a quick lunch.

As a host, it can be helpful to be sensitive to and aware of the pressures to eat that are everywhere during the holidays, and to offer but not push.

Add some fun physical activity

Moving your body can help you be more in tune with your hunger and fullness, and can also help improve your mood and overall health during the holidays. Making physical activity something to enjoy is key to keeping it a regular part of your life. During the holidays, you may be doing a lot of travelling, eating foods you don't normally eat, and be in unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable surroundings. This can cause stress to the body, which might lead to stomach troubles.

Being active during the holidays can also help you with digestion and improve your mood. And let's not forget, be sure to make it fun! Active games such as basement floor hockey or active video games are a fun way to move be active and enjoy family time at the holidays. Or perhaps you might enjoy the solitude of a walk alone to soak up nature, get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the beauty of winter.

Holiday stress management

The strategies of intuitive eating, mindful eating, healthy communication and enjoyable physical activity can all contribute to less stress around the holidays. Other things can help, too. If you benefit from things like meditation, journalling, calling a close friend, listening to music, reading, or taking a walk, try to still fit these things in when possible.

The simplest stress reliever can be just taking a few deep breaths. This can help us feel more relaxed and grounded. And we always have access to our breath, anywhere we go. Higher-stress situations have also been known to bring out ways of coping that aren't so helpful, like drinking alcohol. Alcohol is often widely available during the holidays. Try to be mindful of your consumption. And of course, if you are drinking, don't drive and plan a safe ride home.

Lindsey Mazur is a registered dietitian at the Women's Health Clinic. She specializes in teaching the Health at Every Size approach to eating and activity.

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