6 tips for navigating food during the festive season

December can be a crazy time of year with work winding down, while end-of-year and Christmas celebrations ramp up. With the influx of parties and festivities comes an abundance of alcohol, treats and food.

For many, it can be daunting knowing that they may not be in their regular routine and that eating habits will be out of whack for a month or two. It can result in heightened feelings of anxiety and stress around food and events. If that’s you, you’re not alone, but this isn’t what the festive season is about. 

The holidays should be about spending time with loved ones, having fun and making life-long memories. How can you navigate food during the holidays to ensure that you allow yourself to indulge without feeling like you’ve lost all control?

1. Don’t restrict the amount of food you eat

Knowing that upcoming events will be full of indulgent foods and drinks can cause us to feel the need to restrict our intake before and after to “make room” and compensate for the extra food and alcohol.

But one meal, day, or week of eating more than normal won’t be detrimental to your goals and your progress long-term. Especially when you consider that this is one day or week of the whole year and your entire life, and you still need to give your body enough energy regularly to support your needs!

Not only this but restricting the amount of food you eat before and after events can increase the likelihood of overeating or binging once you finally allow yourself to eat. To help prevent this it’s important to eat normally in the lead up to, and following, these kinds of celebrations. 

Ensure you still have a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner on the day, and in the following days. Once you get back into your regular routine of eating and moving your body everything will balance out.

2. Don’t restrict the types of foods you eat

Another common behaviour people undertake are the holidays is restricting the types of foods they allow themselves to consume. This can often include avoiding treats until a party or Christmas day; or limiting carbohydrates and fats, and instead loading up on high protein foods and low-calorie vegetables.

Unfortunately, this can result in an unhealthy relationship with food, as it can become overwhelming and stressful to select what to eat. Additionally, restricting types of foods can lead to overeating or binging once you allow yourself to enjoy the foods you wanted or were craving.

Prior to and after a festive event, it’s important to make sure that you’re having balanced meals. That means including a source of protein, carbohydrates, fats and colour (fruit and veg) to each meal. This can look like 1/2 the plate of vegetables or fruit, a 1/4 place lean protein, a 1/4 plate carbohydrates, and a small amount of healthy fats. Still give yourself permission to include treats into your diet when you crave them. 

It’s not bad to focus on including more fruit and veg before and after a day of eating more indulgent foods. Just make sure that you are still eating enough of all types of foods and include more fruit and veg for the purpose of giving your body extra nutrients and not to punish yourself for indulging.

3. Portion your meals out

During the holiday season, it can be common for food to be served in an all-you-can-eat banquette fashion. This makes it easy for you to pile up your plate sky-high, and go back for seconds, thirds, maybe even fourths… It’s very easy to go over the top. 

Remember, one extra generous day or meal isn’t going to be detrimental to your health, progress or goals. In fact, this mindset can leave you feeling extremely guilty, overfull and sick though, which may drive your desire to restrict yourself later on.

When going up to serve yourself, make sure you portion out your plate. Ensure you get a decent serving of the salads on offer, filling up approximately half your plate, then include the other dishes on offer. 

Before going up for seconds ask yourself how hungry you are and how full you feel. If you want seconds or thirds go for it! Be mindful, but don’t overthink it. 

4. Move your body

Yes, it’s the holidays, and you may be out of routine with work and going out but it’s still important to try and move your body where you can. This can help keep you on track and give some sense of normality. That doesn’t mean going crazy with exercise to overcompensate for the extra food and drinks. It means moving your body in a way that makes it feel good.

For some, this may be keeping your regular routine at the gym, whilst for others it may involve walking each day. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re on holidays though, you can’t always fit this in, particularly if it isn’t your usual training. Just remind yourself what makes you and your body feel its best.

5. Remind yourself what really matters

Does it really matter if you put on a couple of kilos over the holidays? Does a few weeks or two months of eating differently really matter in the long run? No.

On days when anxiety and stress around food is high or if you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself what really matters. Is this worth wasting your energy on? Remind yourself of what’s important to you; is it enjoying yourself or is it stressing about a few extra calories or less nutritious foods?

6. Have the treats

It’s the holidays! Let yourself indulge when you’re craving treats. It’s okay to do so. 

Yes, they may be less nutrient-dense and more calorie-dense compared to other foods. Yes, it’s important to focus primarily on including more nutrient-dense, whole-foods into your diet. BUT it’s okay to include the occasional treat into your diet. These foods give you pleasure, enjoyment and feed your soul.

In fact, including treats into your diet from time to time enhances your relationship with food, and stops you from fixating on or overthinking each food you consume. This food freedom will ultimately allow you to focus on what matters and allow you to make the most of the festive season and holidays without stressing.

Last updated:
9 January 2023