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3 Dietitian Tips to Feel in Control at Holiday Meals

By: Sarah Martel, MHSc(c) & Aja Gyimah, MHSc, RD

For my Canadians, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and so are many other holidays that usually revolve around lots of indulgent food. Navigating these meals can be tricky, particularly with diet culture messaging appearing just about everywhere we look. The holidays are stressful enough, and you shouldn’t be left worrying about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to feel before, during and after that big meal. So, I’ve come up with 3 tips to help you enjoy that holiday spread... stress-free.

1. Eat regular meals and snacks leading up to the big spread (& the day after too!)

Whether it’s a holiday meal, or going out for dinner, I’d bet that most of us have restricted food or skipped a meal to “save room” for the main event in the past. The idea is that you’re saving your calories for many helpings of those tasty dishes, which truly doesn’t help us. When we restrict our food intake leading up to a big meal, we actually end up eating more than intended since we are SO hungry. This can leave us feeling lethargic, uncomfortable and guilty.

Eating every 2-3 hours just as you would on any other day, is the best way to arrive at the table feeling in control and able to make food decisions that will serve you. If your meal is at dinner time that means having breakfast, lunch and 1-2 snacks. Not only is it important to eat regularly before a big meal, but also the next few days that follow. Your body still needs consistent nourishment, even if it got a little extra on the weekend.

2. Try filling half your plate with veggies

The best part of any holiday meal is the number of dishes, and it’s totally okay to want a little bit of everything. But if you’re looking to keep your plate a little more balanced, luckily there are often many vegetable dishes to choose from. What’s the point of being an RD (or RD-2-Be) if we didn’t encourage you to eat more veggies? Whichever veggies you choose, the fibre will help keep you full and satisfied.

If it’s not a veggie spread, no worries! You can always be intentional when filling your plate in other ways. Try asking yourself these questions: “will this satisfy me?”, “will this taste great to me?” “will the world keep spinning if the only vegetable I had was mashed potatoes?”. If the answers to all of those questions are yes (as they should be), then you’re fine!

3. Don’t sweat it if you overate (figuratively and literally)

So you tried my tips; you ate regular meals and snacks, you made half your plate veggies because you wanted to, but you still went back for seconds of dinner and dessert. What should you do? The simple answer is nothing, you’re human.

Another common way to compensate for eating “too much” is to go crazy with exercise and “work it off”. Whether it’s squeezing in a big gym session before the dinner or going overboard with cardio the next day, it’s not necessary. If intuitive movement is part of your daily routine and makes you feel good, by all means go ahead, but don’t punish yourself for overeating with intense exercise. Your body is perfectly capable of handling a little extra food, and most importantly... LIFE WILL GO ON.

BONUS: Be present and enjoy the damn food

If I haven’t convinced you that having an extra plate or two isn’t the end of the world, then let me just pull the Global Pandemic card. For many, Thanksgiving might be the first holiday spent with family and friends in nearly 20 months. It would be a shame to let thoughts around food overwhelm this precious time that we’ve missed so much. So enjoy the moment, each delicious dish and all the memories made, your routine and balance will always be there for you on the other side!


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