Navigating the Holidays with Nutritional Strategies


This year’s holiday gatherings are looking a bit different than years past. Some families are choosing to continue with social distancing and some are not but what is probably not going to change that much is the foods you intend to eat. These are the foods you have been dreaming about all year long. In my family, that means cheesy potatoes that my sister makes. They are commonly known as funeral potatoes. These potatoes are loaded with all the deliciousness and outrageous amounts of carbs and fats.

Whether you will be sharing one or many meals with friends or family, you may want to take a proactive approach and decide before the meal how you will be handling the day.  Whatever decision you make is 100% the right decision for you.  In this post, I am going to share some strategies on how you could handle your holiday meals.

Strategy One: Enjoy the Day

Strategy one is simply just choosing to enjoy the day and not track your nutrition. It is one day of eating. You know that it is consistent nutrition over time that produces results not one good meal. The opposite is also true, just because you choose to take the day off from tracking and enjoy some of your holiday favorites does not mean you will derail your progress. This is a great strategy that fosters a long-term balanced dieting approach.  Remember, you diet for you and sometimes that can put stress on those around you. Your family will love that you chose to focus on them for the holiday and not stress about weighing and measuring everything.  As you enjoy the meal, savory the flavor by eating slower. Your body will signal you when you are full and that is point where you stop eating.  Listening to your body cues for satiety results in creating moderation.

Strategy Two: Guidelines and Limits

Strategy two is creating guidelines and limits.  You decide before the meal where you will indulge and where you will set boundaries.  But, how do you implement this strategy, you ask. You decide to use the one plate rule.  You allow yourself one plate of food. You get to eat as much as you want but it must fit on one plate, no seconds. You only put on your plate the things you most want to eat and skip the less desirable foods.  When it comes to dessert, you choose one dessert not multiple desserts. You can have as much of that one dessert as you want but it can only be one. This strategy really focuses on moderation even though you might be allowing yourself to eat as much of something as you want it really creates moderation. Let me give you an example regarding eating one type of dessert, you are probably not going to eat the entire pie yourself because that might be frowned upon in a social situation. But people might not look twice at you if you had multiple different types of desserts. Eating a variety of desserts is far more calories than choosing one dessert and eating as much of it as you want.  And lastly, giving yourself a cap on how many alcoholic beverages you will drink.  If you already have a plan before the meal then this is going to give you a better opportunity to stick to the plan than if you are winging it. One way to manage your intake of alcohol besides setting guidelines is to drink a glass of water in between each drink you have.

When you choose using the strategy of guidelines and limits this results in reducing your choices. Limited choices allow you to make better choices.

Strategy Three: Bring a Dish or Try New Recipes

Strategy three is perfect option whether you are hosting the meal or if you are invited to someone’s home.  If you have been invited to dinner, bring a dish to share. Great options include a veggie tray, a salad or a dish low in calories that you can load your plate with to create volume.  This is a great option when you do not know what will be served and if you will like it or not.  This strategy also allows you to have something you feel comfortable eating and have some control over the calorie intake.  Hosting at your home?  What a great opportunity to try some new lighter recipes of some traditional holiday favorites like my Low Calorie, No Bake Protein Pumpkin Pie. It tastes just like the high calorie recipe at the fraction of the calories.   This a good way to introduce your guests to some new holiday flavors without all the extra calories.  You could also reduce the fat in many recipes by half.

Strategy Four: Flexible Dieting

You might be prepping for a show, a photoshoot or you just want to stay in a calorie deficiency and work towards your weight loss goals. Strategy four is flexible dieting. Flexible dieting in this scenario is banking or borrowing calories from other days in a 7-day period to allow you to bank extra calories for the holiday or reducing calories the next few days after the holiday.  This is a great strategy to use when you want to indulge a little bit but you want to keep on track with your progress.  Rule of thumb states that the reduction of macros would come from carbs and fats and not protein. You can reduce by 10-20 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fat per day.  This will create a nice surplus for the day. You want to avoid banking too many calories because that can result in you getting hungry and then you overconsume your calories and negate your efforts to bank calories.   If you go over your available budget of calories, you can borrow calories from the next 6 days and reduce calories based on how much you went over.  This strategy really focuses on keep your deficiency in tack to allow you to keep making progress.  One note about this strategy is that varying your intake from day to day will typically result in more scale fluctuations.

Strategy four also focuses on what you will be tracking. There are times you just want a little more flexibility with your nutrition choices and hitting macros can be daunting when you just want to enjoy yourself.  This strategy focuses on two different protocols, tracking calories only or tracking calories and protein.  You know that protein is KING in the macro kingdom so leaning towards tracking calories and protein is ideal BUT one day of not being 100% on protein intake will not hurt your progress.  You will most likely be estimating your nutrition for the day as well. Error on the side of the higher calorie choices in your food tracking application to give you cushion incase the food was higher in calories.

Food Environment

When eating at someone else’s home, you cannot control the food environment but what you can do is be mindful of your place in that environment.  Do not hang out in the kitchen or sit by dishes of food. While you have good intentions to have a couple bites of readily available foods, history shows you can not just have a couple bites and this can result in you easily consume many calories just by mindless snacking. 

Leftovers

Holiday meals typically result in leftovers for days. You have 3 strategies when it comes to leftovers. First, do not bring home leftovers. Enjoy the meal and politely decline leftovers even if it is your favorite pie. Second, send leftovers home with your guests. And lastly, when planning the menu make only enough for the one meal. The holiday is one day/one meal. When the holiday foods are no longer available it makes it easier for you to get dialed back in and on your way with your weight loss goals.

Be activity

One way to manage calories for the day is to active. Incorporate physical activity into your get-togethers with friends and family. Many friends and family have started adding in a holiday 5K the morning of the day. Depending on where you live you could do a hike or participate in a sport like touch football.   If a 5K, sporting event are not your cup of tea you can also take a walk after dinner. This will be a great opportunity to catch up with everyone.

Scale Fluctuations and Next Best Steps

You might see some initially spikes of weight on the scale but that is to be 100% expected. I mean you probably ate more calories, more carbs, more sodium and drank less water. There are a couple more factors that could effect the scale weight that I outline in my post called, “Screw the Scale“. My recommendation is to maybe take a week off of the scale and just focus on nutrition, fiber, exercise and water.  What will most likely happen is that you will be right where you were before the holiday or even down in weight.   What you do the days following the holiday meal will determine your success with your weight loss. 

The day after the holiday the best next step will be to follow your prescribe macros/calories to allow you get right back on task.  Slightly increasing your water intake to help flush out extra sodium.  Plan to workout. You probably ate a little more so those extra calories will make for good workouts for the next few days.  

While you might gain weight for a few days you could also maintain or lose weight.   Losing weight after an off-plan day perplexes people.  How can you eat more and still lose weight?  There are a couple factors to consider. If you have been dieting, have a lot of stress, etc. this can result in higher cortisol levels.  High cortisol levels result in more water retention. The break from your stressful life, a training break and a break from the diet can be the perfect combination to reduce cortisol.  The rest and relaxation from the holiday gathering might also allow you to have a better night sleep and maybe an additional rest day that your body really needed.

These strategies will help create intention to conquer the day, which builds confidence that you can be successful losing weight while still enjoying the holidays. A final thought, even if you choose not to plan for how to manage your nutrition for the holiday, even if you eat or drink more than you expected to and you gain weight that does not mean you messed anything up or that you failed.   Deciding that you will refocus on your nutrition and exercise program will get you right back on track.  Your weight loss journey is not determined by one or two days.  Your weight loss is a direct result of consistency over time.  You should expect that there will be good days and days that have opportunities. Take those opportunity days and learn from them and create change in your life for long term success.

One Reply to “Navigating the Holidays with Nutritional Strategies”

  1. Love this! You touch on every possible scenario a person can be in and steps they can utilize to be successful.

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