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Should You Health-ify Your Holiday?

holiday table
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD - Blogs
By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RDRegistered dietitianNovember 18, 2019

When it comes to healthy swaps for the holidays – like mashed cauliflower “potatoes” or low-fat pumpkin pie – people usually react in one of two ways: “Good idea!” or “Are you kidding me?!”

It’s understandable why people develop “skinny” versions of favorite dishes. Thanksgiving marks the start of what can feel like a weeks-long food marathon, with rich foods at every turn. If you’re trying to maintain your weight or stay on track with certain eating habits, it can all seem impossible to navigate. For as much joy as the season involves, it can also involve a lot of guilt around food and eating.

The holidays throw my own eating habits a lot of curveballs too--and like everyone else, I sometimes overeat at parties and family dinners too. But I wouldn’t dream of messing with once-a-year favorites, like my brother-in-law’s mushroom and sausage stuffing or my mom’s thumbprint cookies. I eat those foods and don’t fret about it, because they’re not everyday items in my diet.

When people deny themselves the foods they truly love, it never ends well. In fact, it often leads to a cycle of feeling deprived, overeating those restricted foods, and then feeling shame. Rinse and repeat.

So instead, prioritize your favorites. Decide what you really love, enjoy those holiday foods without guilt, and move on. And if you overeat, simply go back to your usual habits at the next meal or snack and don’t pass judgement on yourself. Personally, I know I feel a lot better--physically and mentally--when I stick to my usual eating habits outside of those holiday dinners and parties.

Another way to feel in control while savoring holiday foods: balance out the rich foods with the healthy items you already love. A lot of people appreciate a lighter dish, like a crisp green salad, a veggie tray for munching before the meal, or a pan of roasted broccoli. As much as I love cookies and sweets, I also look forward to the huge fruit platter my sister-in-law makes the day after Christmas.

I’ve got nothing against making whole grain stuffing or swapping Greek yogurt for sour cream in potatoes--so if that appeals to you, go for it. But don’t deny yourself the dishes that make your holiday special because you’re trying to be “good”. Because you just might end up feeling bad. And that’s no way to spend the holidays.

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About the Author
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio. An award-winning reporter and writer, Sally has been published in magazines such as Health, Family Circle, and Eating Well and is a Contributing Editor to Parents magazine. She is the author of the book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgments" zone all about feeding families.

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