Holiday Eating and Entertaining Strategies from Calgary Dietitians

Christmas Chaos

It was the nightmare before Christmas, and all through the house, dieting difficulties were stirring, definitely much louder than a mouse. A cast of characters descends into your life, you hope to make it through with no strife!

Calgary Dietitians offer some strategies for challenging eating and entertaining scenarios during the holidays such as judgement, peer pressure, food restrictions, and taking care of yourself.

Please note, this article was originally written in 2019, before Covid-19. Please follow holiday gathering guidelines in your local area.

Scenario One: Judgment

Judgy Jeff is known for his loaded glances. Every time he looks at your plate, you feel that sinking feeling that your choices are just not good enough. He eyes your waistline, your plate of little shortbread cookies, and then sighs “Honey,” in his most fake-nice way possible. Judgy Jeff has entered the building.

Strategies for Facing Judgmental Family Members During the Holidays

Strategy One: Prepping Helpful Phrases

Whether it comes in the form of comments about your food choices, ‘helpful advice’ or being urged to eat, no one likes to feel monitored, pressured or judged. Here are some responses that you could try at your next gathering. 

Judgy Jeff – “Are you sure that you should be eating that?”

You – “This is part of my eating plan for today. I’m choosing to eat and enjoy it.”

Judgy Jeff – “I’ve heard that it’s good to avoid carbohydrates for your condition. I made you a cheese tray for dessert so you don’t have to eat the shortbread and pie.”

You– “Thank you for your thoughtfulness, but I’ve learned what’s best for my body and can decide what I will eat.”

Judgy Jeff– “You haven’t tried any of my spinach dip.”

You– “It looks delicious, I’ll sample some later.”

Wendy Shah, Registered Dietitian,  is the co-founder of Craving Change.

Strategy Two: Eating Well

Sometimes the stress of togetherness and that one off-hand comment by a relative might be the reason you inhale the whole pumpkin pie, that just minutes ago didn’t even interest you. Afterward, you may experience guilt for eating your feelings. 

We live in a diet-obsessed world, which values food restriction as a sign of discipline and health.

Emotional eating is a normal part of being human. We do it as a way to cope and in the big picture, compared with other coping methods, it’s pretty harmless. 

As recent studies indicate, when we diet, negative emotions deplete what psychologists callconscious cognitive control’ over what we eat. Basically, we enter a situation with restraint until negative emotions override our best intentions.

When we do give into dieting temptations, our suppressed appetites emerge in a big way and we overeat.

Try these tips at your next holiday gathering:  

  • Before and during your festive gathering, feed your body’s natural appetite for food. With this method, you are likely to enjoy your food, and reduce the likelihood of holiday eating guilt.
  • Know that emotional eating is a normal part of being human. It’s ok there are days you enjoy your Christmas treats more than your relatives! 

Lindsey McGregor, Registered Dietitian, is a Calgary Based Dietitian who runs Dietitian Directory.

 

Scenario Two: Peer Pressure and Alcohol

“Shots! Shots! Everyboooody! Shots!” Pete screams as he enters your door, arms loaded with his latest collection of half-drank hard alcohol.

He careens toward you, vodka cranberry in hand, his over-eager smile pressuring you into accepting. You cringe.

What do you do? Do you appear to be that party pooper? No one wants to disappoint Party Pete!

Strategies for Holding Your Holiday Drink

Strategy One: Respect Your Boundaries

Drinking culture that thrives on peer-pressure can be very difficult to push away. 

Try these tips to enjoy drinking in moderation:

  • Alternating alcoholic drinks with water to slow down your intake and improve hydration
  • Choose lower alcohol drinks or drinks you can sip slowly
  • Offer to be designated driver so you won’t get pressured to drink
  • Choose lower alcohol cocktails like light coolers (my favorite is socialite vodka that comes in between 3.8-4% ABV with no added sugar) or a shandy (half beer half sprite)
  • Be firm if you don’t feel like drinking

Strategy Two: Healthy Alternatives to Alcohol

  • Bring fun mocktails to the party instead of alcohol! Flavoured kombucha or cranberry mint-infused water are special enough that you won’t feel left out.
  • Suggest fun outings for holiday office parties and get-togethers like rock-climbing, locked rooms, or game cafes instead of drinking!
  • Audit your hangover–learning to drink mindfully and in moderation comes with understanding of choices and their consequences. I like to say ‘no one wakes up the next day and says ‘I’m SO glad I had that last drink’! As you start to uncover your drinking habits, you can set goals and make positive changes.

Andrea Hardy, Registered Dietitian,  Owner of Ignite Nutrition.

Read more Dietitian tips about managing alcohol intake

Scenario Three: Needy Guests and Food Restrictions

In a haze of essentials oils, your next guest enters. She glows at you, analyzing your chaotic aura, and offers you some reiki.

As you bring her a plate of snacks, she puts up a firm hand, and launches into a very DETAILED explanation of the latest high fat/low carb/raw/intermittent fasting diet that has allowed her to achieve nirvana.

You are confronted with panic as you wonder if your humble, home-made offerings are good enough. The approval of the Diet Diva seems like it’s everything!

Strategies for Handling Annoying Guests

Strategy One: Keep ingredients simple

Create a meal bar, where ingredients are kept separate and guests can serve themselves.

This way, people can customize their meals to their own needs, while feeling connected to the meal offered.

You could create Holiday Buddha Bowls, a taco bar, or a chili bar, where guests can come in and serve themselves.

Offer festive whole foods, like this pomegranate holiday salsa, crunchy and colourful garden vegetable rice wraps, along with this garlicky green goddess dressing

Remember, keep meal planning simple, keep sauces and toppings to the side, and offer fruit for dessert.

Kristyn Hall MSc, Registered Dietitian, Chief Eating and Energizing Officer, Energize Nutrition. 

Strategy Two: Remember, diets don’t work and eating well in the long-run is healthier than a crash diet

Someone is inevitably going to be telling you about their new diet. 

Be firm in your knowledge that diets do not work……

From the body of evidence (see studies from 1991, 2007, and this 2014 review), it’s evident that dietary treatments for weight loss and obesity may have modest short-term weight loss, at best. Most often, any weight lost is regained (and then some) within one to two years.   

When the revised Canada’s Food Guide came out, we understand that “dietary choices made on a regular basis form a person’s pattern of eating. Over time, patterns of eating can lead to better or worse health outcomes.”

This means the little choices you make every day around food add up, creating your dietary pattern. So, eating well in the long-run is healthier than a crash diet.

Keep in mind that holiday eating is for no more than several weeks of the year. It’s the choices you make throughout the whole year that truly matter. 

Nutritious foods, such as vegetables, and fruits, protein foods (milk, meat, and plant-based proteins), and whole grains are the foundations for healthy eating. 

Lindsey McGregor, Registered Dietitian, is a Calgary Based Dietitian who runs Dietitian Directory.

 

Scenario Four: YOU!

Now, let’s talk about you. Hurrying past your reflection in the hall mirror, you try to ignore the nagging self-doubt. You shiver at the impossible balance between partaking in the joy of the season and keeping to you new health goals. You are a bubble of stress about to implode at any second, a veritable Death Star with the sweet, sugary smile of the host.

Strategies to stop being so hard on yourself

Strategy One: Reasonable eating expectations 

Most people don’t feel great after their tenth night of drinks, appetizers, and mega meals.

Listening to your body might be able to help guide you to enjoy your food without overeating. At your gatherings check-in and ask yourself the following questions. 

  1. What do I really want to eat?
  2. How is it going to make me feel after?  
  3. What can I change so that I will feel good after eating?

Renee Little, Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and owner of livitnutrition.com.

Strategy Two: Be kind to yourself

It might be easy to feel off balance with your health goal during the holiday season. Remember this season is just a short time during the year. 

Try to:

  • Take time for yourself
  • Write a list of your health accomplishments over the past year 
  • Spend time doing activities you enjoy
  • Be kind to yourself – we are all just doing our best

Lindsey McGregor, Registered Dietitian, is a Calgary Based Dietitian who runs Dietitian Directory

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday, and have fun with festive eating and entertaining!

Keep reading: Holiday Eating – Handling Mega Meals, Workplace Treats, & Parties

 

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