…aka “How to Stay Sane but Still Eat Healthy at the Most Tempting Time of the Year”.
…aka “How to Not End Up Like Buddy the Elf.”
From Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives to your office holiday party, candy cane booby traps seem to be everywhere this time of year. I’m bringing you some of my best tips to survive the holiday season with your health intact so you won’t need a New Year’s resolution of losing weight…again.
Without further adieu, here are my top 10 tips for staying paleo and surviving the holidays:
#1 If possible, host a gathering or dinner at your place.
Yes, this usually makes tons of extra work for you, but by hosting, you’ll have more control over the food offered. Chances are, folks won’t really even notice you’re not offering lots of grain-heavy choices, so don’t make a big deal about how you’ve banished bread. I’ve made a few paleo Thanksgiving dinners, and everyone walked away happy and full.
#2 Station yourself near the veggies.
If I’m out at a party, I home in on the veggies and meat options and properly set myself up with a plateful. Shrimp cocktail? You bet. Fresh veggies and fruit? Yup. It may not be as sexy as those holiday cookies, but you won’t end up with a sugar hangover the next day.
#3 Have a booze alternative.
If you’ve decided to forgo alcohol, have a substitute drink. That way, at the office or gym party, you can mingle and still have something sparkly in your hand while you’re socializing. One of my favorites is a Mediterranean Fizz from Mel of The Clothes Make the Girl…it’s sparkling water with a lime and olive garnish. For another option, check out my Easy Paleo Mocktails.
#4 If going to a party where you’re unsure of the food situation, eat at home first.
Sounds simple enough but I’ve been to enough parties where the main food options were sandwiches and gluten surprises of unknown origin that if I’m unsure about it, I eat at home before I go. Nothing’s worse than going hungry at a party then arriving home really late, starving. If you show up and there are options, cool…you can pick and choose and fill your belly up with stuff that’s not going to wreck you.
#5 Be prepared for travel.
Holiday season is prime time for travel to visit family and friends, but long hours in transit plus limited options in airports and truck stop convenience stores often lead to impulse eating. I’ve consumed my bodyweight in nuts on many a long trip because I wasn’t prepared. Stash paleo-friendly snacks in your bag if you’re going on a plane (click here for one of my favorites). If you’re going by car, consider bringing a cooler so you can nosh while on the go. Check out these posts from Popular Paleo and Whole9 for paleo foods that travel well.
#6 Don’t start a clean-eating challenge during the holidays.
This one’s tough. Some folks take on 30 day paleo challenges over the holidays in an attempt to “be good” because there’s a structure in place that they’re committed to. While it sounds great in theory, I don’t recommend it. It’s one thing to make paleo versions of your favorite holiday foods but when you’re ultra restrictive around this time of year, there’s always the significant chance of going 180 in the other direction because the pressure and temptations are so high. Falling off the wagon big time is even more likely at this time of year because you need to exercise willpower virtually everywhere you go. Just like a muscle, willpower gets exhausted from overuse, too. From personal experience and what I’ve learned with clients and readers, save your 30 day challenges for after the holidays.
#7 Schedule time to be active and exercise.
Even if it’s a short walk or a workout at home, with time off around the holidays, it’s easy to fall into a rut. You don’t have to hammer yourself, but make time each day to get outdoors or get a sweat on. You’ll keep your energy up and prevent some of the doldrums that seem arrive with the winter season.
#8 Get the bat signal ready.
When temptations arise, have someone you can send a bat signal in the sky to. It could be a work buddy, a trusted friend or a family member. Staring down a tray of Christmas cookies? Send a text or phone a friend. The buddy system works wonders.
#9 Resist the urge to be a paleo zealot.
If you’re loving paleo and all the great stuff it’s done for you – better sleep, more energy, fat loss, etc. – it’s so tempting to want to. Tell. EVERYONE. When’s a better time than having a captive audience at a holiday get together?! (I’m being facetious…this is a terrible time). As much as you want to tell Aunt Mary why her dinner roll causes gut permeability or your Uncle George about the blood sugar spike he’ll get after eating that slice of fruitcake, it’s probably not the time or place. Course, if someone asks all about the fabulous changes they’ve noticed in you, you may want to strategically talk about what you’ve been doing (like, “I eat plenty of meat, veggies and healthy fat”). Focusing on the positive always helps. Take it from me, discussing the downsides of grains at a holiday family party when it’s unsolicited often goes over poorly.
#10 Know where you can cut corners.
I’m assuming you’ve already done a strict 30 days of paleo (like a Whole30 or similar) at some point in your journey, right?! (wink wink) You should have a good idea of which foods you can be lax about and which are an absolute no-go. If gluten makes your guts tie into knots but dairy usually doesn’t bother you too much, you’ll know to studiously avoid the cookies while maybe having some holiday eggnog. If you’re out and you want to indulge a bit, pick a choice that won’t wreck you for days.
If there’s a super special treat that your mom only makes for Christmas and it’d fill you with joy to have it, I’d argue that’s where you could / should / would give in. A bag of red and green M & Ms every day through December 31 just isn’t special.
What’s your best tip for clean eating during the holidays?