The initial feel for the holidays is one of parties, family, and festivities around every corner. The deep, dark truth of holidays, though, is one of struggle. For starters, there are many that are without family and depression is a real thing. Watching others celebrate and gather with family from near and far, bring to others the harsh reality that they may be alone. The other side is that many have tried, and possible yo-yo’d all year with their “diets” (ugh, that word…) and are hit with holiday foods at every turn. So let’s do better. Let’s learn how to cope with this and not slide backwards!
The reason I don’t like the “d” word (diet) is because it signifies that you are limited yourself. Focus on your lifestyle change where you can incorporate a variety of foods, indulge in a few favorites, without feeling guilty. I have said it before, and will continue to preach: learning how to eat the right foods at the right time the right way will ensure you have better long term success. By focusing on all the foods that you can have, you will avoid those cravings for foods that are not sustainable for your body. The most common reaction people have when I tell them my success is from eating correctly and exercise is, “Oh, you eat that healthy food”. What?! I laugh, and then let them know that I probably eat better than most people and I enjoy my food! I am going to assume that the stereotypical “health” food is, as my husband puts it, is twigs and berries. I assure you, I eat a much bigger variety of food.
I will admit, when I was first starting out, I was incredibly strict with my food. I logged everything in a food journal, said no to a lot of things. Looking back I was having success with what I was eating, and honestly, I did not want to screw it up. Through trials and tribulations, and some accidental failures, I found out which foods I could incorporate back into my lifestyle and to what quantity I could bring them back. For instance….dairy is not my friend. I don’t care how delicious, what the holiday or the circumstance, diary will physically hurt me. On the other hand, I am not sensitive to gluten, I just don’t like the way it makes me feel when I eat it in excess. What I learned is that, if I want a sandwich one day, I will incorporate it into my meal plan and will eat it. Dairy, I will find the next best alternative, or vehemently say no!
I know what you are saying, “I thought this was a holiday edition blog?” Patience, grasshopper. Holiday foods are the bomb.com. They are comforting, good for the soul, as they bring fantastic childhood memories flooding back when you smell or taste them. I will also be honest, up until a few years ago, I had the train of thought that it was the holidays and I was going to “live it up”. Sound familiar. I will also admit that I was wrong, but it took time to come to that conclusion. While starting off your lifestyle change is really hard, I am not going to lie, it gets easier as you continue. Remember in the last paragraph I mentioned that by trial and error you figure out what you can and can’t eat? This is where it starts to pay off. The longer you eat clean (and by clean I mean nutrient-dense food, and I will add: in proper portions) the harder it becomes to eat caloric dense, heavy foods. The first thing that my family changed with our new lifestyle was making our own condiments and snacks. I realized that the commercialized seasonings, marinades, dressings, and snacks were the worst when looking at processed ingredients, salt and sugar content. Also over the course of time, your tastebuds will change. As they regenerate and replace, you may notice your taste requirements change. So as we journeyed on our little lifestyle bus, the holidays would roll around and I wouldn’t change the menu. These are the foods we have always had, these are the foods we will have now, and I will deal with the consequences. I was also telling myself that I would wear stretchy pants and eat until my belly pooched out, because that is
the American way, right? Telling the truth, I was ok with that. Sounds like there is a catch. Yep, but one day your holiday world will shift and you will be fine with it. Here is my Ah-ha moment.
My husband and I were sitting down at the fire station celebrating Thanksgiving with the guys and their families and the food looked delicious. We got a little taste of everything and sat down, so excited to eat. As we started taking the first few bites, I looked at my husband and quietly mentioned how incredibly salty some dishes were, or how overly sweet others were. It was so overpowering that I couldn’t finish nearly anything on my plate. There was nothing wrong with the food, nor was there anything wrong with me. I had become so accustomed to “clean” eating that I could no longer handle this rich food. I had also become so accustomed to small meals, that even the amounts of food on our plate (which comparatively speaking to other plates was small) was too much. It was the first time in almost four years that I wished for a completely healthy and clean Thanksgiving dinner. Have you ever noticed that a couple hours after a big Thanksgiving meal, kids will tell you they are hungry? And you think, “how in the world can they be hungry after that meal?” It’s because most kids do not eat past the point of being full, and are also a ball of energy before and after a holiday meal. Take note on this.
While this point comes at you gradually, there are lots of ways to continue your lifestyle from here. There are so many fantastic recipes for holiday dishes that will leave you completely satisfied and you will be able to enjoy them fully. Some of the biggest changes are actually very easy. Coconut milk can be substituted for milk or heavy cream that some dishes call for. Brown sugar and processed white sugar can be left out, and coconut sugar would be the next best addition. You can also use maple syrup, honey or molasses, but not cup for cup replacement. The best advice is search for some recipes, there are some great ones out there. There are also some that won’t be so good…just prepare yourself and try them out before the “big” day. Be aware of casseroles, they usually have lots of foods added to them that will not sit well with you. Paleo Num Yums makes a fabulous Sweet Potato Casserole that uses pureed sautéed apples mixed with cinnamon and allspice as the “sweetener” for the casserole. My family actually asks me to make it every year and it has been a welcomed replacement. You can also simplify many dishes….ditch the green bean casserole for bacon-wrapped green beans. Simple substitutions can still give a big flavor!
My next helpful tip is going to sound pretty crazy….be sure to eat before the big meal. Huh? Most people make the mistake of getting in the mindset that they are going to have a big meal, so they are going to save up all their calories for the day for that meal. Big, big mistake (say it in your best Julia Roberts voice in “Pretty Woman”). It is important to have a couple of small, very clean meals before a big meal. Not only does this engage your metabolism to start working, but you will actually be likely to eat less when you sit down to your main meal. I promise you won’t miss anything!
This brings me to the next important fact: it really helps to have family on board. Starting off, my husband and I were questioned, by everyone. We were looked at a little oddly, we came to visit with our cooler and had several of our own meals packed. Family thought we were crazy that we ate so much. Over time, as my husband and I stayed consistent with our lifestyle, family has either excepted it, or better yet, many have adopted some of our traits. We bring extra healthy meals for in-between foods for family members, or they request certain dishes. My family has even revamped their entire Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to omit casseroles and have more fresh veggie dishes.
Whatever you do, don’t overload yourself. Make small, gradual changes and stay true to yourself!