'Tis the season of temptation. Be it holiday parties with fistfuls of drink tickets, or endless cookie exchanges, the month of December is one big red flag when it comes to eating well.
And beyond the excess of indulgent food (chocolate crackle peppermint ice cream, anyone?), the real culprit behind poor eating during the holidays is stress. By that, I don't mean binge-eating a yule log cake because your mother-in-law is staying with you for two weeks. Rather, stress that comes from jam-packed work schedules, social commitments and seasonal tidings.
To say I fell off my healthy-eating wagon during the first week of December, which was packed with social engagements, would be an understatement. My breakfasts and lunches were fine and I did manage to eat a protein-rich snack in the afternoons. But sadly, by the end of the day I was scarfing down a hodge-podge of leftovers for dinner with nary a vegetable in sight. I also didn't take time to plan out my meals for the week.
I broke Dayna Fradette's first rule of surviving the holidays with a healthy diet intact: Prepare yourself.
Fradette is a holistic nutritionist associated with Energia Athletics, a boutique gym in Toronto's east end. She looks at not just what you put in your mouth but also how you live your life; from the amount of sleep you get to the stress levels associated with your work. Her dietary mantra's acronym is N.A.G.: Natural, Alive and Good-Quality foods.
Being prepared, though, means more than just packing a lunch. It's also about drinking lots of water, said Fradette. "The more water, the better your body operates," she said. "You'll have more energy and be more alert."
Hopefully with more of those two things, you'll be more likely to make better food decisions. Plus, Fradette added, thirst can send the same type of hunger signals to your brain; meaning you feel fuller.
The second strategy for keeping the holidays healthy is seemingly self-evident: Don't go to parties hungry.
But Fradette offers a word of caution on this step. "Don't have a full dinner since you will be inclined to munch on things [at the party], which is completely fine."
Lastly, Fradette advises people to "eat mindfully," especially when indulging. Take in the sight and smell of the food and think about every bite you take. In other words, don't Hoover the tray of deep-fried hors d'oeuvres in a minute and then wonder why you're still hungry.
"You don't want to be in a ravenous state. You want to take a mindful approach," she said. "When you're concentrating on what you're eating, you will chew it more, which will help you digest it better. This will also control your portion size because you'll begin to feel full sooner, so you'll be less inclined to grab more."
Enjoyment is what you should strive for during the holiday season. Treats, such as exotic-flavoured candy canes and Christmas cookies, are limited-time-only foods. Eating well doesn't mean avoiding these sweets, but rather knowing how to enjoy them in moderation.
And if you do fall off your wagon and binge at a holiday party, don't waste time feeling guilty. Fradette says that each failure is an opportunity to learn. She encourages people to "sit in the feeling" and figure out why you made the unhealthy choice.
Then move on.
"Begin the day with exercise or eating something really healthy, any sort of anti-oxidant rich food – colourful fruits and vegetables, like pomegranates, sweet potatoes or clementines."
Clementines are, after all, another delicacy of the holiday season.