The holidays can bring more foods, more gatherings and more worries about healthy eating. Learn more about finding a ‘middle lane’ and keeping your nutrition goals on track.
Nutritionist Christie Naze, RD, CDCES, specializes in diabetes and women’s health. Every year, as food-focused events pick up during the holidays, she sees conversations begin to shift. People ask how to navigate the final stretch of the year in a healthy way. Those who are dieting may worry about a loss of control. Others have concerns about managing food in social gatherings.
While some may want an easy solution to their holiday nutrition questions, Naze says much of answer lies in taking the “middle lane” approach.
Finding a healthy range
“Imagine a road with a middle lane, with a spectrum of healthy behaviors for taking care of your body for eating and exercise,” says Naze. “Then, find the fringes where not caring is on one side of the road and caring too much is on the other side.” The goal is to find the range between the fringes that supports a healthy body and lifestyle in a way that works for you. That can look different for each person.
One side of the road may look like constant dieting. “People struggle with that dieting mind cycle,” says Naze, “You are expected to follow a rigid set of rules that nobody can stick with. Inevitably, people eat something that is ‘forbidden’ or ‘bad,’ and they feel like a failure. That leads to a feeling of guilt or shame.”
“The diet is the problem, the thing that failed," adds Naze. "Not the person."
The other side of the road may involve people not caring about what they eat or letting go of health and nutrition goals during the holidays. For this, Naze recommends setting realistic expectations.
For either side, it’s not about trying harder, but trying differently. And, more importantly, thinking differently. Your thoughts and feelings about food lead to your actions.
“It’s not about being perfect,” says Naze. Remind yourself that healthy people eat junk food sometimes. Instead ask, “How can I eat that treat, enjoy it and still help my body feel good?”
You may also consider at what time you are eating your food, instead of focusing so much on what you are eating. For example, Naze has learned that her pregnant patients with gestational diabetes will have less impact on their blood sugars if they have a treat in the afternoon versus at bedtime.
Healthy eating goes beyond food choices
There are other components to health that can dysregulate your body and affect your food choices. During the holidays, you may experience increased stress. Higher levels of stress increase a hormone in the body called cortisol, which can contribute to increased appetite and cravings for sweets. Sleep disturbances can also be a factor. Exercise may be harder to fit in or you may take a break while away with family or friends. Staying on top of these other areas of your health help your body get what it needs beyond nutrition.
How and what we eat is complex
Naze recognizes that thoughts about food and nutrition can be complicated. Choices are sometimes emotional or nostalgic. Eating is often a very personal experience. You may need time to sort through some of these other aspects of your relationship to food while also addressing your nutritional needs. Meeting with a nutritionist can help you look at healthy eating from many different angles.
“The holidays have so many special things happening. If people are spending time fretting about what they are going to eat, it can suck the joy out of it,” says Naze. “Most people want to be free of that cycle. It’s a mindfulness journey with the end goal that people take back the power from food.”