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Nutrition Expert: Five Ways to Get Through the Holiday Season

December 18, 2021

Mostly, says registered dietitian Lauren Nichols, nutrition manager for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, her mantra for getting through the holidays is “go easy on yourself.”

In fact, it’s also her mantra for everyone planting those New Year Resolution Flags proclaiming 2022 is the year they “get fit, eat right, diet, exercise . . . .”

“This is a loaded season,” Nichols said, noting that schedules can be packed with parties, concerts, family, friends, shopping, decorating and traveling. “There can be a lot of emotions, and stress and anxiety. Don’t strive for perfection. Go easy on yourself.”

One area that can really suffer this time of year is our nutrition, she noted, because besides being really busy, we are surrounded by dips, drinks, cookies, sweets, and buffets. “This doesn’t always allow us to have time for thinking about balanced nutrition,” she said.

A simple trick for this time of year (and year round, she is quick to add) is to think about adding to your diet rather than trying to deny yourself something. So at breakfast, for example, add some chopped vegetables to your scrambled eggs. Add some fruit to your oatmeal. Add some nuts to your snack.

And if your family enjoys a decadent treat at the holidays each year, don’t label it “bad” and deny yourself. “Enjoy it,” Nichols said. “It’s a holiday tradition in your family, maybe it’s part of your culture, so don’t let ‘diet culture’ talk you out of it. It doesn’t mean you have derailed your healthy eating. It’s one thing.”

Nichols had some tips for nutrition through the holidays and into the New Year.

1. Plan. Stock your pantry and freezer with staples like frozen veggies and whole grains so if you come home after a full day you know you have something to provide your family with a healthy meal. “That way you just default to take out or something at the grocery store that wasn’t what you wanted.”

2.  Parties. If you know you have a party to attend, don’t starve yourself during the day. Eat your regular healthy meals, and have a good snack before you head out the door. That way you won’t overindulge when you are faced with the buffet table and you are starving.

3.  Listen to your body. What are the hunger cues your body is giving you?

  • Are you hungry? Then eat at the party, but try to create a nutritionally balanced plate. Scope out the whole spread before making choices.
  • Are you full? Then stop eating.
  • But it tasted so good! Then have a small amount more.

4.  Don’t make resolutions. Instead, think about why you want to make changes. Then think about habits you can create that will help you achieve that goal. Instead of going crazy with fad diets and extreme gym memberships, pick one or two small things to change. “If you try and change your entire life, you will get frustrated and give up,” she said. “Small changes are more likely to stick.”

  • Do you usually skip breakfast? Start eating a little something at the beginning of your day. A yogurt, scrambled egg or half an English muffin. This will set your body on the right track for the rest of the day.
  • Do you drink a lot of soda or sugary beverages? Start swapping in water for each soda you would drink.

“Don’t think ‘don’t’,” Nichols said. “Think ‘do’. Add fruits and vegetables to your day. Add water. It’s not denying. It’s adding.”

A good place to start when thinking about making small changes to your diet is with your primary care provider or a registered dietician.