December 13, 2018

A Guide to Eating Healthy This Holiday Season – How to Handle 4 Common Challenges and Stay on Track

Guide Healthy Eating Holidays - Woman Thumbs UpIs your calendar filling up with holiday socials and events? It can be easy to get out of your daily routine for food, exercise and even personal time this time of year. We may find ourselves more stressed than usual trying to spread cheer to others, get the kids to their holiday events – with the cookies you had to bake for their school party – and not to mention, helping get your house ready for company or preparing to travel.

We asked our clinical nutritionist expert and registered dietician, Rachel Vincent, how to handle four common challenges people face with healthy eating during the holidays: time, money, stress/emotions and mindset.

A Guide to Eating Healthy Track This Holiday Season

1. Plan and schedule your time

Use a calendar to keep track of what days you have events and when you have some time.

  • Fill in your social events, appointments and other obligations.
  • With the blank space left, fill in time(s) at least once per week for groceries and meal planning.
  • If possible, assign 1-2 hours per week for batch cooking using a sheet pan or soup/stew/chili recipe.
  • Pick out times that may be extra hectic when a frozen meal, quick salad or sandwich option would help (perhaps a time you normally skip a meal or eat takeout/fast food).
  • Consider repetition and simplicity for at least some of your meals and snacks. Have a favorite go-to healthy breakfast? Eat it all week (or all month!) long! Love apples? Make one your default afternoon snack — it’s okay!

2. Money and budget

  • Seek out resources for healthy, low-cost recipes at the USDA’s What’s Cooking or Budget Bytes websites.
  • Spices and herbs can add up – buy spices for holiday cooking from dollar stores, discount grocery stores or bulk bins, or ask a family member or friend to spare you a small amount required for the recipe.
  • Avoid impulse purchases on “seasonal” snacks – shop with a grocery list!
  • Decrease meat servings or go meatless in favor of less expensive but extremely nutrient-dense whole grain, lentil, bean and vegetable-based meals.
  • Be old fashioned – use fruit for stocking stuffers.

3. Check in with your stress and emotions

  • Practice gratitude. Write down five things you are grateful for, either when you first wake up or right before bed – or both! The holidays can sometimes highlight what we don’t have now and used to have, or what we don’t have that others do. Research shows gratitude practice can improve sleep, enhance empathy, lessen frustration and regret, and may even reduce feelings of physical pain.
  • Exercise. Even a few minutes per day can reduce levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, while increasing mood elevators like dopamine and endorphins. Put on some holiday music and dance. Instead of driving, walk around downtown or around your neighborhood to look at lights. Or stick with your usual if it’s working well for you – protect your exercise time!
  • Seek support. Attend support group meetings. Set up an appointment with one of our talented and compassionate behavioral health specialists. If you see an outside therapist, see if you can increase visit frequency temporarily. Confide in a friend.
  • Ask for help. Delegate tasks and invite others to join you in your holiday activities. Who can help address cards? Who can help wrap gifts? Who can wash a pan or put away some dishes? Who can put on a movie and watch the kids for a few minutes? Yes, you can do it all – but at what cost to you? (Even Santa needs his elves!)

4. Shift your mindset

Along the lines of checking in with your emotions, check in with your mentality, too. Our own mind can be a powerful ally or enemy. Periodically sift your thoughts and intentionally correct the messages you identify as negative or self-sabotaging. Ask yourself questions and reflect on how you feel and what’s important to you.

If you find yourself thinking this, think of this instead:

“It’s only once a year.”

» Instead, think: “Is it really once per year? Or is it actually a weekend, or a week, or an entire season? Would I rather indulge? Would I rather feel healthy and energized? What is the best gift to myself?”

“I’ll start fresh in the new year.”

» Instead, think: “The new year will be my happiest and healthiest yet if I stay on track now.”

“Everyone else is eating and enjoying themselves – why can’t I?”

» Instead, think: “I can eat what others are eating if I so choose. Instead, I choose to appreciate healthy food and also to seek enjoyment from other things besides food.”

“Mom will be hurt if I don’t eat her food.”

» Instead, think: “I can still shower her with appreciation for the time and thoughtfulness she put into cooking. I can choose to take a few bites if I want to, or I can choose to share my health goals and then shift the conversation to something else. My feelings matter too.”

“I blew it!”

» Instead, think: “One meal or food choice does not erase all the progress I have made. I can get right back to healthy eating immediately.”

“The holidays won’t be the same.”

» Instead, think: “Different can be better.”

Be kind to yourself while taking care of yourself and others this holiday season.


Rachel Vincent, RD, is a clinical nutritionist educator at Mission Weight Management.

To learn more about Mission Weight Management and to sign up for a free information session, call 828-213-4100 or visit missionweight.org.