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Sanity in the face of plenty: Navigating those big holiday meals


First of all, what a fabulous problem to have, so let’s remember to really feel the gratitude.

Second of all, we still have to deal with the surfeit of options, the pressures from well-meaning friends and relatives, to say nothing of the potential stressors of just being with a group of people—no matter how much we might love each other. Food is a common denominator for gatherings this time of year, so we need to take it seriously while not getting obsessed and uptight.

I’ve navigated the holidays well the past 10 or so years. Prior to that, I knew going in that I was going to eat way too much and would just have to deal with the discomfort afterwards. I was okay with it as I was eating…just a little more stuffing mixed with potatoes mixed with cranberries…because it was so tasty…and then a few more bites of pecan pie—with plenty of nuts and that wasn’t so bad because that’s protein, I rationalized. But. Inside I was a mess. I felt out of control. Food had tremendous power over me. I knew, even as a teenager that once I started with the sugar it wouldn’t let me stop until I could literally eat no more. Over the years I found ways to put limits on myself: drink a lot of water; exercise a lot; become a vegetarian (that’s a whole ‘nother story for another time); be an arrogant food snob…and on and on.

I am still this person. I still have a proclivity for a particular mix of sweet-salty or sweet-sour, but today I am fully informed about what the overeating does to the actual cells of my body. Today I know the Whys and Hows of digestion—and intestinal distress—as well as the Whats and Wherefores of balancing my intake of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Knowledge is power. Today I can walk into almost any eating situation and make calm, informed decisions which feed my spirit as well as my body. What I would do if I were faced with a room full of Lance crackers and Jello, I don’t know, but just in case this ever happens I always carry a Chomps beef stick with me, because, wait for it: if I fail to plan, I just may be planning to fail.

So what does this look like on the ground?

I will take a small plate if that’s an option. I can fill it and go back for more, if I want to, without compromising my health. If there is salad, I will use that as a base on which to put the more seasonal food. Next come all the vegetables I can easily recognize, meaning they are not lost in Campbell’s Soup sauces or layered with fried onion bits and breadcrumbs since I avoid wheat and processed oils for their inflammatory effects in the body. (I like having pain-free joints; it is fabulous to be running freely at 51!)

And what about the turkey/ham/roast? Moderation is the meat of the matter. I recently began learning about the damage eating too much protein can have on our cells, so I take a reasonable portion of the turkey or what-have-you. No more than a palm-sized piece. Okay, I may take a wee bit more at a holiday do, but I really don’t want to age my body faster, or wear out my kidneys.

Now the fun stuff: if I know the gravy and cranberry sauce are “clean” for me, I will definitely add some and be very happy. I try to visualize a measuring cup, so I stay sane and aware. Especially when I turn to the potatoes. Easy does it. My first binge food as a child was (cold) boiled potatoes (I may have been deficient in serotonin), so needless to say, I love me some “potates”. But if there are marshmallows anywhere near the sweet ones, I run. Thankfully I do not feel the least bit deprived because the processed dishes just don’t draw me. For that reason it is easy for me to skip the conventional stuffing/dressings.

What about drinks and desserts? What is your comfort level with letting these go? If I’m feeling deprived, I might have a bit more of a “safe” carb. And if I really want a special holiday drink, I will buy some sparkling mineral water and add a twist of citrus or a splash of juice. It is a celebration, yes, so we need to balance our emotional and psychological needs with our body’s need for our caring.

If you’re new to this world of “clean” eating, remember to be gentle with yourself. I am a great believer in “Bless it and move on”. It is not permission to binge, but to have a taste of something you would feel absolutely deprived not to have. And then let yourself move on. To a conversation, not to the whole pie, not even to a whole piece, but to the real reason for celebrating: our connections with others. If you’re anything like me, it’s that first bite which is the best anyway. Every other bite is chasing the pleasure of that first one, and it never catches it, so it’s best to let it go early in the chase. Try this trick: tell someone you trust you’re having one—or two!—bites, invite them to join you (or just cheer for you) and then support each other in moving on. Accountability is your best friend in this type of situation. Feel free to contact me, if that will help. Remember that sugar is truly as addictive as heroin and cocaine, if not more so.

So my tips for staying sane during holiday feasts:

  1. Don’t arrive too hungry.

  2. Prepare and provide the food you want the most, if at all possible (I’ll be doing the cranberry, sweet potatoes, mashed cauliflower, roasted veggies, and gravy at our celebration).

  3. Focus on community first, food second.

  4. Check out all the offerings and come up with your personal strategy to balance the Yum factor with mindful eating to nurture your body, not overwhelm it.

  5. “Choose your food consciously, enjoy it thoroughly, and then, let it go.” (The RESTART Rule)

  6. Stay in the gratitude!

Is this helpful? I would love to hear from you.

Happy Happy Celebrating Community and Caring Days. Long may we be healthy enough to do so with feeling!

#Holiday #feast #eatingclean #blessitandmoveon #food #balance

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DISCLAIMER: The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Helen Gardiner-Parks is not a licensed medical professional, dietitian, or nutritionist.  Seek the advice of a physician or qualified health provider with questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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