How to Manage Holiday Eating Without Feeling Like You’re Cheating

Download the FREE Happy Gut® Holiday ChEATing Guide

For those of us trying to live a healthy lifestyle, the holidays can leave us at a fork in the road — either you abandon your healthy lifestyle goals and fully enjoy all the desserts, cocktails and decadent dinners, or you say “no” and miss out on all your favorite treats.

Neither option is ideal. The first leaves you feeling bloated, lethargic, and uncomfortable in your favorite pair of pants; the second leaves you feeling sorry for yourself, constantly fighting against temptation, and feeling like someone who spoils the mood amidst all the carefree holiday cheer.

That’s why this week, I’ll be diving into something we don’t talk about much — finding balance over the holidays. I want to help you find a healthy, happy middle ground this year. That way, you can fully lean into the holiday cheer without completely sabotaging all your hard earned progress from the first 10 months of the year. Or maybe you’ve put on that quarantine fifteen, and you’re dreading packing even more pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

If any of these situations describe you, then keep reading…

Why “All or Nothing” Thinking is the Wrong Approach

I often observe my patients falling into an “all or nothing” thinking pattern when it comes to health. For example, I’ll have a patient stop running altogether when they don’t meet their goal of training for a marathon, or eat a piece of bread, decide they’ve “failed at being gluten-free,” and start eating a croissant every morning for breakfast. It’s nothing or the kitchen sink — no in-between.

Have you ever heard the saying:


“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”

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Well, the instances above are the ideal example of this saying in everyday life. And nowhere is this thinking more damaging than over the holidays. Because the truth is, you don’t have to choose between completely abandoning all wellness goals and being so strict that you suck all the fun out of this time of year, only to cave in later and go on a comfort food and sweets binge. And if you keep reading, I’ll prove it to you!

How to Find Balance This Holiday Season

There are two crucial parts of achieving a more balanced holiday season. The first involves identifying the worst holiday health offenders, and the second part involves identifying your personal holiday priorities. Here’s what you need to know:

Step 1: Identify the worst holiday health offenders

So what are “holiday health offenders”? Mostly, they are foods and substances that disrupt your gut health and microbiome, which can lead to the blood sugar fluctuations, weight gain, irregular moods, and crashing energy levels many of us experience during the holidays. Before you fall prey to the usual temptations of the season, let me help you strategize a holiday eating plan you can successfully navigate.

Here are five of the most damaging health offenders, and why you should be wary of them this holiday season:

Sugary Cocktails

Sugary Cocktails: The holidays are a time for celebration, and oftentimes that means champagne, wine, beer, cocktails, and ciders. Unfortunately, alcohol can majorly disrupt the gut microbiome and can increase intestinal permeability, leading to leaky gut. But even worse than alcohol alone is the combination of alcohol and sugar that’s found in many cocktails. Since sugar also disrupts the gut microbiome — by allowing sugar-eating bacteria to overgrow and crowd out good bacteria — this is like a double whammy to your gut health and a recipe for a major hangover.

Couch Potato

The Couch Potato Effect: Even the most active among us can find ourselves glued to the couch in November and December. This is usually for a bunch of reasons — the cold weather, travel, heavy foods we’re eating, and the lack of alone time. Exercise has a positive influence on gut health and promotes a balanced blood sugar, so we miss out on the benefits when we stop moving our bodies this time of year. This, combined with the other factors on the list, is what really contributes to our health falling apart over the holidays.

Carb-y Filler Foods

Carb-y “Filler Foods:” This includes foods like pasta, bread, and crackers, which are unfortunately an abundant part of this time of year. These foods are typically made with refined, simple carbohydrates that disrupt gut bacteria and wreak havoc on your blood sugar, leading to dysbiosis — an imbalance between good and bad bugs in the gut, favoring a more detrimental gut microbiome for your health. The worst part about these foods is that they’re typically not even the central focus of the meal; more often than not, they are just delivery methods for delicious sauces, cheeses, or spreads. Yet, they’re extremely damaging to gut health. And you end up eating way more of them than you actually need to because of the addictive effects of these refined carb “filler foods.”

Dairy Bombs

Dairy Bombs: Hot chocolate, pumpkin pie, eggnog, mashed potatoes — all famous holiday foods and all dairy bombs. Traditional dairy is one of the worst gut health disruptors, not only because so many people are lactose- intolerant, but because dairy can slow digestion and leave you bloated and constipated. I have found dairy to be particularly problematic for women who suffer from constipation and acne.

Portion Size Trap

The Portion Size Trap: The fifth and final holiday health offender has to do with not just what you eat, but how much you eat. Many of us decide that if we’re throwing our healthy lifestyle routine to the wayside, we should do it with total abandon and pile our plates high. Unfortunately, this leads to stomach aches, nausea, acid reflux, and utter exhaustion after eating. There’s also the guilt of not trying everything at a dinner party, so you end up eating things that intuitively you really wouldn’t want to eat.

Each of the five holiday health offenders is damaging in their own way, but together they are the perfect storm of factors that leave you desperately needing a detox come January.

Step 2: Identify your holiday priorities

After you familiarize yourself with the top holiday gut health disruptors, it’s time to look inward and figure out what YOUR priorities are for YOUR holiday season. This means identifying the foods and activities you really look forward to and fully enjoy, as well as the ones you could go without.

Then, it’s all about making small, strategic compromises. For example, if you can’t live without delicious hot chocolate, can you cut down on sugary cocktails, or make those hot chocolates dairy free? If you can’t imagine a holiday without your mom’s famous mac and cheese, can you avoid the portion size trap and eat it in moderation by choosing a smaller bowl to serve it in? If you went a little overboard at your last meal, can you go on a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood and do a stress-busting, mood-boosting HIIT workout the next day?

They might not seem ground breaking, but these little compromises can make a big difference in your health. In fact, you might just find that by getting a little strategic, you are able to enjoy the holidays just as much as you did before. That means you’ll feel a whole lot better while feeling like you’ve made almost zero sacrifices!

How to Enjoy the Holidays Without Feeling Like You’re Cheating

The truth is, there are a ton of ways to promote balance this time of year and avoid an “all or nothing” attitude about holiday wellness, which inevitably leads to those late-night kitchen cabinet raids. In fact, I created a FREE Happy Gut® Holiday chEATing Guide to help you do just that. I include smart ingredient swaps that will allow you to enjoy your favorite foods and drinks in a way that also helps you cut down on the excess sugar, carb-y “filler foods,” and dairy bombs.

We often get in the habit of doing the same thing every holiday season — overeating, spending too much time on the couch, and reaching for every unhealthy treat and snack. This year, why don’t we try something different?

Download my FREE Happy Gut® Holiday ChEATing Guide and follow the two steps above so you can have a healthy and happy holiday season — full of a little bit of indulgence, a little bit of wellness, and a whole lot of healthy balance.

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