Healthy Eating After the Holidays: 5 Ways to Use Food to Help You Feel Better

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Along with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes an almost inevitable shift in our eating patterns. Our once-a-year favorite foods make a much-anticipated debut. Holiday travel may mean eating on the go. Feasts with friends and family adorn our tables. And time is spent catching up over cocktails while nibbling on the delectables that surround us.

For some of us, maybe many of us, there is also stress — about time, about money, about family — making what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year perhaps one of the most difficult. Thus, we may find ourselves turning to food for comfort or a convenient distraction, or both.

There are countless reasons why our eating may change around the holidays – these are just a few. And, you know what? It’s okay. It’s even NORMAL. So, if after the holidays are over you find yourself thinking things like, “it’s time to get back on track” or “I need to start making ‘good’ food choices again,” let this be the year you make those thoughts a thing of the past.

You do not need to pay penance for your perceived holiday eating “sins” because you haven’t done anything wrong.

Don’t Punish Yourself for Your Holiday Eating

No matter what you ate, how much you ate, what you weigh, or how much weight you gained, guilt and shame about your holiday eating do not need to follow you into the New Year. Eating holiday cookies for any reason does not earn you a spot on the naughty list – no matter how many you have.

That said, if after the holiday chaos, festivities, and stress come to an end and your normal routine resumes, you find you aren’t feeling as good in your body as you’d like to, some simple shifts in the way you approach food might help.

No, I’m not talking about going on a diet or suggesting you start logging every single calorie you consume. You don’t need to focus on “eating clean” or adopting any other healthy eating fad. None of those are going to work any better this year than they have in years past.

What I am talking about is spending some time reconnecting with your body and tuning in to your own intuition – because after weeks of distraction and atypical eating, this can really help.

5 Tips for Healthy Eating After the Holidays

1. Add some predictability back into your eating routine.

The holiday season is often chaotic. Schedules are constantly changing, the to-do list seems never-ending, and we find ourselves always on the move. As a result, our eating routine may follow suit – eating at atypical and unpredictable times. And for a time, because our bodies are resilient and adaptable and amazing, we probably won’t notice much of a difference. But, after days or weeks of chaotic eating, we might start to notice that we just aren’t feeling our best.

General predictability and consistency in when we eat helps to keep our blood sugar levels nice and stable. It also helps with regulating hunger cues, meaning we are less likely to get to the point of extreme hunger before noticing and before eating. When we can address hunger cues before they get extreme, it makes it a little easier to notice cues of fullness and stop eating before we get to the point of feeling uncomfortably full.

This all plays a role in stabilizing our mood, too.  

2. Bring some balance back into your meals.

Holiday eating is not always balanced. Our vegetable to dessert ratio may flip-flop. Rich comfort foods might become the norm. Those changes come with the season and I hope you enjoyed every single bite.

Again, our bodies are generally able to handle these temporary shifts in eating patterns. We don’t need to eat perfectly balanced meals every day to support our health. And, when our body starts to need something it’s not getting (like maybe some of those nutrients in the fruits and vegetables we haven’t been eating so much of) it will tell us. Like, maybe you notice your digestion is off or your energy level is low.

Balance, like predictability, is really helpful for stabilizing blood sugar levels and appetite hormones. It really works wonders for restoring feelings of balance in our bodies, too.

So, think about what foods or food groups may have had a heavier presence in your diet as of late. Then, think of which ones you haven’t been getting much of. And start to experiment with shifting around the proportions.

If you’re not sure what this might look like, the Green Mountain Guide to Supportive Eating is a great place to start.

Also notice that when we talk about balance, we don’t mention eliminating anything. It is possible to have a very balanced and health-supportive eating routine that also regularly includes things like cookies and pie.

3. Tune into your hunger and fullness.

Food is everywhere during the holidays. We eat, and eat often, for reasons that are not necessarily physical hunger or a need for fuel. Continually giving our bodies fuel it isn’t asking for can contribute to general feelings of what I call blah-ness. You’re never quite hungry, you may not necessarily always feel full, but you don’t really feel satisfied, and overall your body just feels off.

While predictability and balance can help to reset your hunger cues and get them back into a rhythm, giving your hunger and fullness detection skills a tune-up can help you relearn how to best respond to those cues.

You might start by just pausing before each time you eat, noticing how your body feels – is it hungry? How hungry? How much and what do you need to satisfy this level of hunger? Then, continue to pause every few bites throughout your meal to notice how your body’s sensations start to change. Can you notice as the hunger cues fade and are slowly replaced by cues of satisfaction and fullness? What does this transition feel like in your body?

Using a hunger and fullness gauge can be helpful for guiding this process.

4. Slow down (your meals and perhaps other areas of your life as well).

This might mean slowing down the pace at which you eat, setting your utensils down and pausing in between bites, and taking time to notice how the food engages your senses – how does it smell and taste? What does it look like? This might mean setting aside time to eat your meals and just focus on eating your meals, without distraction.

Slowing down helps us in several ways.

It helps us to notice our hunger and fullness cues. When we can notice our cues we can better respond to our cues and prevent those extreme and uncomfortable swings. You know – feeling either way too hungry or way too full.

Healthy Eating after the HolidaysAs we eat, if we slow down and focus in as we eat we will likely chew our food more thoroughly. Swallowing half-chewed bites of food are tough on digestion – our stomach is left to do the job our teeth were meant to do which can lead to significant GI discomfort.

And, often when we eat quickly it is in part because we are distracted. Distracted by whatever else is going on in our environment (work, TV, conversation) or distracted by our thoughts (of what we need to do next, what we are worried about, replaying past experiences in our minds). When we are distracted we are less engaged in the eating process. So, even if we eat something we really love, we don’t fully experience it. The result can be feeling less satisfied by the food that was eaten and maybe even leaves us wanting more even though we are physically full. Slowing down allows us a chance to savor our food to really enjoy it.

5.  Allow pleasure to continue to be a priority.

The importance of continuing to emphasize pleasure in eating cannot be understated. This is often the first thing to go when we adopt a new “healthy eating” plan. It ultimately leaves us feeling deprived and unsatisfied and sets the stage for eventually “giving in” and overeating all of the foods we love but haven’t allowed ourselves to have. Not only can this make us feel unwell physically, but it also takes a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. We feel guilty, shameful, defeated.

Allowing foods we love, even those with less nutritional value, to continue to be a priority will ultimately support us in finding balance in our diet. Knowing we can still have them whenever we want will prevent feelings of scarcity and help us learn to eat these foods in a way that also feels good in our bodies.

So instead of starting this post-holiday season vowing to “do better” when it comes to making food choices, instead consider focusing on how you can feel better. After all, history tells us that trying to compensate for holiday eating by adhering to strict “healthy eating” rules really only serves to replace physical discomfort with psychological distress. And, that can lead us back to the very eating behaviors we are trying to change.

We hope you enjoyed your 2017 holiday season, including every cookie, cocktail, and holiday feast. We also hope you can start 2018 feeling your best yet. However, if you are unsure of where to begin, or how to eat in a way that truly nourishes your body, mind, and spirit, maybe a stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run is just what you need to start your New Year. 


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4 responses to “Healthy Eating After the Holidays: 5 Ways to Use Food to Help You Feel Better”

  1. Joy Toboroff says:

    I consider myself so luck to have found Green Mountain. Spent an incredible 3 days. Life changing

  2. Caitlin says:

    Absolutely beautiful writing, Dana. As a fellow RD and mindful eating enthusiast I find your posts incredibly insightful and full of “pearls” I can share with patients. You are awesome!

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About the Author

Dana Notte, MS, RD, CD

Dana has dedicated her career to helping individuals establish a balanced and healthy relationship with food. She has extensive training and experience in coaching for behavior change, mindful eating, and motivational interviewing. Dana has spent years leading group-based behavior change classes, developing and leading interactive workshops for worksite wellness programs, and providing nutrition counseling to individuals struggling with eating, weight, and chronic health conditions. Her practice style is client-centered, compassionate and empowering, with the goal of helping individuals develop the confidence to achieve their health and wellness goals. Dana is the Nutrition Lead at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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