Savouring the holidays: How can I enjoy festive treats without overindulging? We asked a dietitian

Dietitian Abbey Sharp shared tips on mindful eating practices.

Welcome to Ask A Dietitian, a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on mindful holiday eating in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)
Abbey Sharp gives us the scoop on mindful holiday eating in the Ask A Dietitian series. (Canva)

The holiday season brings with it a tempting array of festive treats and indulgent meals. Finding a balance between enjoying these, and maintaining a nutritious diet, can be challenging.

According to an expert, people can absolutely savour the joy of the season without compromising their health. But how?

As the holiday season unfolds, registered dietitian Abbey Sharp gave Yahoo Canada readers practical advice to navigate the holidays with a focus on mindful eating.

Here’s what you need to know.

How can I balance my holiday meals?

Sharp said it’s important to maintain a consistent approach to nutrition during the holidays. She advised individuals to focus on adding color to their meals, emphasizing “count color, not calories.”

That means pairing treats with a variety of fruits and vegetables, fiber, protein and healthy fats. “This is what's gonna keep us feeling satiated and satisfied, which is going to naturally prevent overeating — without us getting into that scarcity mentality or making us feel deprived,” Sharp explained.

Maintaining a balanced diet during the holidays is not just about avoiding overeating; it plays a crucial role in supporting energy levels, regularity and immune health during the winter months. It also helps prevent the risk of weight gain.

“We are, of course, going to be having more meals out this time of year, we're going to have probably a little more sweets, and more salt, and more fatty foods than normal. But just focus when we can, on having a lot of more bountiful fruits and vegetables… fiber, protein and healthy fats.”

How can I detox after eating too many treats?

Simply put: there is no way to magically “detox” your body. Sharp explained our body’s natural detox mechanisms (peeing, pooping) can be supported with hydration and fiber-rich foods.

“Water is really going to help to offset those higher amounts of sugar, sodium and alcohol, which again, we drink a lot more of. So if celery juice helps, it's because it's 99.9 per cent water,” Sharp claimed.

If celery juice helps, it's because it's 99.9 per cent water.

Sharp suggested opting for whole fruits and vegetables for a more efficient approach that provides fiber too, and again, adding in protein and healthy fats — the “hunger crushing combo.”

“That is going to slow down the blood sugar spike, which is going to stabilize our energy levels and help to support regularity.”

How can I practice mindful eating these holidays?

Mindful eating is a great tool in preventing overindulgence during the holidays.

“There's no set appropriate amount of holiday treats that I can recommend. The important thing is that you feel you are able to enjoy the holiday season without falling into what I call ‘scarcity mentality,’ which is typically going to result in a binge,” Sharp claimed.

“What is the amount that you can [have] that you're enjoying yourself, but also feeling your best?”

Sharp recommends paying attention to hunger and fullness cues by eliminating distractions during meals (like TV). This involves making mealtimes more relaxing, tuning into the sensory aspects of each bite, asking “Am I hungry? Am I full?... What does this taste like? What does this smell like? What is this crunch?”

Holidays can be stressful. How can I avoid emotional eating triggers?

The holidays are a particularly stressful time for a lot of folks. Combined with an overabundance of food, it's often a recipe for emotional overeating, Sharp acknowledged.

For individuals dealing with emotional eating triggers, especially those with a history of eating disorders, she suggests incorporating self-care practices. Engaging in non-food-related activities, seeking support from friends or therapists, practicing meditation, mindfulness, yoga and journaling are effective tools for managing emotions and stress without resorting to food.

I really encourage finding a non food, physical activity that brings you joy.

Importantly, Sharp advised against self-judgment, assuring it’s “completely normal” to eat emotionally on occasion.

“We all get to the Christmas meal, and we eat more than normal, we eat because we're happy, or we eat because we're stressed. That is all within the realm of normal,” the expert said. “If you are falling into an emotional eating episode, the most important thing is to not judge yourself.

Sharp added judging and shaming yourself will likely only fuel another emotional eating episode. The best thing to do is simply to move on.

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