The holidays are all about spreading cheer, joy, and being around people we love, but for many of us that also means indulging in a lot of unhealthy seasonal food, treats, and snacks. But one thing certified nutritionist and author of the blog The Full Helping Gena Hamshaw wants us to ditch is the guilt or shame, especially when it comes to something that brings so much joy. After all, we need food to survive, and just the very act of enjoying your favorite dish increases our endorphin levels, and that is something we all need, especially at this time of year.
But if you're looking for a few simple tips to get through this indulgent season with the least amount of guilt and the most amount of joy, then heed Hamshaw's advice below. It's as easy as bringing a healthy meal along to your next friend or family gathering. Don't forget to enjoy yourself.
Don't Engage in Compensatory Behaviors
As tempting as it may be to eat less in anticipation of a night of indulgent eating (or the day after what feels like a splurge meal), Hamshaw says don't go there. "The cycle of restriction will only make you more prone to eating beyond your fullness cues when you do actually sit down to a celebratory meal," she stresses. So what's the alternative?
Hamshaw advises we eat meals with a balanced macronutrient ratio (protein, healthful fats, complex carbs), plenty of fiber on the day of a feast, and to stay well hydrated. "You'll arrive at your gathering nourished and more able to eat in alignment with your actual hunger cues," she says. "If you feel that you've indulged more than was right for you, spend the following day focusing on hydration and on your frame of mind, cultivating self-compassion and an awareness that you're entitled to enjoy yourself through food."
A single meal never has to be a big deal from a dietary perspective—no matter what you ate or didn't eat. Hamshaw says that the real big deal is the yo-yo cycles of restricting and overeating and the shame and anxiety that can prompt them.
She urges we do everything we can to keep holiday meals in a healthy context in our mind. "Remind yourself that one single occasion of wholesome eating in a context of never eating nutritious foods probably wouldn't strike you as an overall healthy lifestyle pattern," she says. "The opposite is true, too: treats and indulgences and eating past the point of fullness once in a while don't have any long-term impact on an otherwise sensible, balanced eating style."
Take Care of Your Needs
If you eat a selective diet (such as vegetarianism), Hamshaw says to be sure that you have options at whatever gathering you're going to. "Offer to contribute a dish to a friend's dinner party, or if you're meeting with friends at a restaurant, speak up about choosing a place with options that fit your eating style," she says. If you're attending a work function or another meal where you truly may not have enough to eat, she says to try and fill up on healthful snacks beforehand so that you don't feel deprived once you get there.
"The holiday season is a great time of year to carry around snacks in general since most of us are moving at a faster pace than usual," she adds.
2 Healthy Recipes to Try This Season
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 large or 6 small cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cooked cannellini beans (2 cans, drained and rinsed)
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. salt
1 16-ounce container organic silken tofu
1 small bunch Tuscan (lacinato) kale, thick stems removed and chopped
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp. vegan parmesan (you can use this recipe, this recipe, or a store-bought version, or you can substitute nutritional yeast)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear. Add the garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beans, broth, rosemary, thyme, and salt to the pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then, add your silken tofu and 2 cups of the hot soup base to a blender and blend for 1-2 minutes, or until completely smooth. Return this creamy mixture to the pot.
Ingredients for the hazelnut crust:
1 cup hazelnut meal
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
Ingredients for the chocolate mousse filling:
1 cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
2 (3.84-ounce) packs Nasoya Coconut Chocolate Silken Creations
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated for 24 hours or more
Ingredients for optional toppings:
Chopped toasted hazelnuts
Dark chocolate bar (for shaving)
Directions for the hazelnut crust:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line the bottom of a 7-inch removable bottom tart pan with a circle of parchment paper, grease the sides, and place it on a small baking tray.
Add all crust ingredients to a large mixing bowl and use a fork to stir and mash together until a crumbly dough is formed.
Crumble the dough into the tart pan and use your fingers to press it evenly into the bottom and up the sides. The more firmly you press the dough into the pan, the better the crust will hold together after baking. Use a fork to pierce the surface of the crust a few times.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, or until just beginning to turn light golden at the edges. Let cool completely.
Directions for the chocolate mousse filling:
Prepare the chocolate mousse filling while the crust cools.
Melt the chocolate over a low simmer in a medium saucepan until just melted, being very careful not to scorch or burn (it will seize if it gets too hot). Whisk in the Nasoya Silken Creations, cocoa powder, maple syrup, and sea salt. The chocolate might seize up a bit because of the chilled pudding, but just keep whisking over the heat until you have a smooth, glossy mixture. Then, immediately remove from the heat.
Remove the can of coconut milk from the refrigerator and, without shaking it, gently flip it over. Open it and dump out the watery liquid (or reserve for another use). Then, scoop the firm coconut cream into a large mixing bowl. Use a hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment to whisk the cream on high for 1 to 2 minutes, or until thick and fluffy with stiff peaks. Be careful not to over-whisk or it could curdle (depends on the brand of coconut milk you're using).
Use a spatula to gently fold the chocolate mixture into the whipped coconut cream until just combined.
Directions to assemble:
Pour the chocolate mousse mixture into crust and chill for at least 2 hours to set.
Once the mousse layer has set, sprinkle the surface of the tart with toasted hazelnuts. Then, use a vegetable peeler to shave the dark chocolate bar over the surface.