Eating With Intention: How to Navigate Challenging Food Choices Over the Holidays

The holidays are always a wonderful, beautiful time of year, filled with family & friends, holiday parties, and more leisure time than usual… I’d like coffee in my pajamas 'till 11 o’clock, please… 😉 

But truth be told, it’s not always as “stress-free” as we might like.

Between changing routines, hosting the in-laws & and an abundance of sugar-filled treats, the holidays can be pretty stressful. 

Especially if you’re managing a chronic health condition, have a history of disordered eating, or are just trying hard not to sabotage all the hard work you’ve put in this year. 

So today we’re going to talk about some easy things you can do to help navigate those challenging food choices that seem to present themselves this time of year.

Food & the Holidays

So, WHY is navigating food choices during the holidays so stressful – more than any other time? 

Well, lots of reasons actually:

#1. You often have no control over the food being served.

#2. There’s usually an overwhelming number of things to try.

#3. The food is often different from what you’re used to eating.

#4. You may feel pressured by friends & family to try certain foods. 

#5. You’re probably in an “indulgence” state of mind due to the general nature of the holidays.

And… this can be the perfect setup for dietary compromises which leads to even more stress & anxiety. 

Especially when you’re really trying hard to be super conscious about your health.

So the question is…

What’s the best way to handle it?

How can you kick back, enjoy the holidays, and quit stressing about the food, while still enjoying yourself? 

Here’s some food for thought… (see what I did there?): 😂

Adopt a Healthy Mindset

Setting yourself up for success starts with having the right perspective. 

So, first… let’s set some reasonable expectations.

  • Desserts are inevitable. 

  • Cookies will be passed around as appetizers.

  • Bread and dinner rolls will be on the table along with food choices that are less than optimal compared to what you have at home. 

And it’s perfectly okay to accept that this probably won’t qualify as your *cleanest* day of eating on record. 🤷🏻

Eating with friends & family over the holidays is so much more than feeling stressed about your food. It’s about nourishing your heart and soul by building connections with the people around you.

These relationships play an important part in supporting your overall health! [1]

But you don’t have to totally abandon your wellness goals. By being mindful about what you’re eating, you can make food choices that align with the outcome you want.

Navigating Holiday Food Choices With Friends & Family

So, you’re headed to a friend or family member’s house for dinner. 

You know turkey is the star of the menu, but you’re a vegetarian… 

You’re worried that you might end up going totally overboard on the carbs and sweets…

And you feel pressure to be respectful of the host who might insist you try her one-of-a-kind mac and cheese…

What do you do?!

Here are a few tips to help you navigate these awkward situations successfully.

Don’t skip breakfast!

🙋 Raise your hand if you’ve ever made this mistake. 

You go on a food strike all day long in preparation for a big holiday dinner party.

You think:

There will be SO MUCH food tonight. I can’t eat all day. I know I’ll eat A LOT later! 

Sound familiar?

This is a HUGE mistake!

Because when you arrive at the party starving, all of your good intentions often go right out the window. 

You’re starving and want to eat everything in sight. Understandably so… you haven’t eaten all day!

Do yourself a favor and start the day by eating a balanced breakfast. This will help stabilize your blood sugar (reducing cravings) and encourage you to make intentional food choices throughout the day. [2]

Communicate your needs.

It’s important to communicate with your host ahead of time so you can arrive at the party feeling supported.

Simply give them a call, share how excited you are to get together, and then let them know you’d love to bring a dish that you think everyone will enjoy. 

This way you can be assured that you’ll have something you can eat!!

If they assure you the meal is all taken care of, you can kindly let them know you have a food restriction (if that’s the case and you feel comfortable saying so) and explain how much you’d love to bring a dish that will complement what’s being served. 

Most hosts want you to enjoy yourself first, not worry about bringing food. They’d much prefer to be aware of your needs ahead of time rather than watching you sit at the table with an empty plate! Trust me… 😉

Create a balanced plate.

Heads up: it probably won’t be perfect…

But as you’re filling your plate, do your best to choose foods that you know will be nourishing for your body including lots of vegetables (if you can), protein, carbs, and healthy fats. 

Here’s an example:

  • Salad

  • Green beans

  • Chicken 

  • Potatoes

*You can drizzle olive oil or butter over your food for healthy fat.

The fat will help you feel more satiated and the other foods on your plate will provide the other nutrients you need. 

Eating with Intention: Creating Mindful Eating Activities

Now that you have a few tips on how to navigate challenging food situations, let’s talk about other mindful eating practices you can consider with regard to your regular meals.

Drink a large glass of water first.

About 20-30 minutes prior to mealtime, drink 8-12 ounces of water. This not will this decrease any raging hunger but it provides a good dose of hydration to keep your digestion working efficiently. 

Say a prayer before the meal.

Whether you’re saying a prayer or giving thanks, I recommend doing some form of ritual to put your body into a state of rest and relaxation so you can better digest your food. [3] 

Take 3 deep breaths before picking up your fork.

This nifty trick drops your body a little further into that “rest and digest” state! 

Use your senses.

Before you take your first bite of food…

*Eat* with your eyes. What colors are on your plate?

Now your nose. What is the smell of the food?  

Now, when you take your first bite…

What does it taste like? Sweet? Sour? Salty? 

What does it remind you of? Childhood? Family? Peacefulness? Faith?

Each of these will help you become very present during your meals, causing your brain and body to slow down and really think about what you’re eating!

Practice Mindful Eating All Year Round

Eating with intention is something I encourage you to practice all year round.

So, I’ll leave you with this – 

Please don’t beat yourself up for eating that slice of bread or saying “yes” to dessert when you normally wouldn’t. 🙏

One small compromise won’t destroy your health & wellness goals. I promise! 😉

Be kind to yourself, enjoy the company, and have a wonderful holiday season!






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