5 Tips to Prepare for the Holidays

Image: Pexels - Askar Abayev

My family’s absolute favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. We love it. It works out every year that the entire extended family can get together that week from Ohio to Tennessee, to Virginia. We spend Wednesday night and all day Thursday in the kitchen splitting the long list of holiday mains, sides, and desserts and we love every second of the chaos.

But, we’re not special. Like many American families, there’s a lot of diet talk leading up to the holiday and on the day of. Every year I hear the same things: “Oh no, I won’t be eating anything until dinner!” “The diet starts Monday!” “Are you going to eat that?” “I’m gaining 10 pounds today…” “So many carbs!”

I could go on. But if I’m being honest, it has gotten better over the years as the younger generations have started talking more openly about what a healthy relationship with food sounds and looks like. While there will always be a stubborn aunt or two that can’t seem to let go of the fear in a slice of pumpkin pie, change can happen.

Whether you’re at an all-inclusive resort this holiday season or your grandma’s overflowing dining room table, balance, comfort, and ease with food is possible.

Here are the top 5 tips I give to my clients when going into social situations surrounding food to ease the stress and anxiety and leave feeling calm, cool, and collected.

1. Ground Yourself

The holidays can be overwhelming, to say the least. People, noise, and food options that seem to be a mile long. It’s a lot. So the first thing I want you to do when you go into an all-you-can-eat buffet or your grandma’s kitchen, is to ground yourself.

Grounding yourself is simple, it just requires you to be mindful of your surroundings. Tune everyone out for just 5 seconds (it can be helpful to sneak away to the bathroom if you need a quiet moment to do this). Feel your feet on the floor all the way up to the hairs on your head. Take a long deep breath in through your nose and long exhale through your mouth. Feel your face and body release any tension and repeat in your head an affirmation that can decrease your heightened state or stress from the moment. I repeat, “I am safe,” because oftentimes in large food gatherings, it can feel like you’re not safe or in control of how your body reacts. But you are safe, you just have to remind yourself of it.

2. Survey the Scene

Now that you’re grounded and standing a bit taller in your own body, it’s time to survey the scene. Take note of all the different food options in front of you. My brain would sound a little like this: “Turkey? Check, I’ll need some protein. Mashed potatoes, not too exciting. Mac and cheese. Weird, it looks dry this year. Aunt Becky probably made it. Stuffing. Eh. Not my favorite. Rolls. Wow, those look so buttery soft. But I want to save room for dessert and I have rolls a lot more than I have sweet potato casserole. Sweet Potato Casserole, you have my heart year after year. Corn Casserole, I’m coming for you. Pecan Pie and I have a date for 7:01 pm sharp because there’s always room for dessert.”

I’ve just taken note of all the food I see laid out, what sounds best to me, what doesn’t, what’s worth it on my plate and in my stomach, and how much room I’ll need leftover for dessert.

I’ve neutralized all the foods and avoided any dichotomous thinking. One option isn’t better than the other, there’s no shame around any of my choices, and I’m no longer overwhelmed by everything. I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.

3. You Can (and you probably will) Have it Again Tomorrow

One of the biggest reasons we overeat during the holidays is because it’s the “only” time we eat the holiday foods. “Thanksgiving is the only time I have Grandma’s sweet potato casserole! I need to eat more to get my fill!”

While that might be somewhat true, the restrictive mindset can lead you into a situation where you need to eat it all now because you’ll never have it again. You walk away feeling overfull, upset with yourself, and tempted to restrict the next day.

The truth is, you can have it any time of the year. And you probably will. There’s a good chance you’ll have Thanksgiving leftovers tomorrow and the day after. And if you’re on an all-inclusive resort, I’m sure you’re there for more than one day and will have another eating opportunity soon.

You can recreate a sweet potato casserole or the delicious risotto at the buffet at any time. You might not typically do it because it’s not your normal meal type. But you can. And I challenge you to if you find yourself overeating in social situations. It can help to retrain your brain into an abundance mindset and avoid the urgent need to overeat.

4. Protein & Fiber — But Different…

It never hurts to have protein and fiber on your plate — even on the holidays. It can help your brain and body feel satiated and nourished. This looks like throwing on some turkey and green beans to your plate if you enjoy it.

BUT, it’s not worth eating something you don’t enjoy. For example, I used to always try to stuff my first plate with veggies and protein and avoid the mac and cheese and sweet potatoes out of fear of eating too many carbs.

Then I’d be helping out in the kitchen after dinner, picking and grazing at all the foods I didn’t enjoy at dinner. I’d feel uncomfortably full and by the time dessert came around, I was in a “screw it” mindset and would eat way more than I needed.

The practical thing to do, would’ve been to have some veggies on my plate, sure, but not force down all of it and instead make room for a comfy portion of the worth-it indulgent foods on the menu. I would have avoided the shame, enjoyed the meal, felt comfortable, not stuffed, and moved on with the day.

So, yes, protein and fiber never hurt anybody, but also yes, neither did satisfying a genuine taste or craving right off the bat.

5. It’s okay to Slip, Avoid the Slide

We all slip. We all do things that are against our morals sometimes. We all overeat a little (or sometimes a lot) when something tastes SO good, there are too many food options, or we’re distracted/not as mindful as we could be. It’s normal, it’s okay.

But don’t let those normal, human slips, turn into self-sabotaging slides. Don’t let one moment of overeating turn into a week of overeating or a week of restricting. Treat every slip as just that, a slip. And get right back to your normal at the next meal or snack or the next day. No need to restrict. No need to give up. Just back to forgiveness and normalcy.

The holidays are overwhelming. Vacation is overwhelming. Food can be overwhelming. I won’t sugarcoat any of that. But these 5 tips should help you start the journey to practicing being 1% better every day. That 1% adds up over time. I always tell people, I think the holidays are the best time to start working with a coach. Not a diet coach, but a nutrition coach that can guide you to a better mindset and habits around food. If you can learn through the most chaotic moments of life, you can take those tools with you anywhere.

With my clients, I focus on shifting habits without restricting or counting calories to achieve sustainable weight loss or weight maintenance. We use practical nutrition so we can live life and feel our best!

Follow me on Instagram @Practical.Nutritionist and TikTok, or subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay up to date on the latest health tips and recipes! Or find me here: livingwithleena.com

If you’re ready to dive deep into your habits and feel confident about your choices surrounding food again, book a free consultation with me here!

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