Eating mindfully this festive season

November 30, 2022

With all the obligations and preparations that come with the festive season, it is easy to neglect our plans for health, wellness and weight goals.   Holiday times are normally full of friends, family and lots of social settings centered around food.

This provides many opportunities to overindulge. We are here to provide you with some great tips to help keep overeating to a minimum during the holiday season and to stay on track with our health goals while still having a happy, healthy holiday season.

Avoid skipping meals – Eat regular meals and healthy snacks throughout the day

In order to eat mindfully and avoid overeating, don’t go into a meal or eating experience hungry. Eating regularly helps to keep your blood sugar stable and avoids it feeling like you are starving.

This helps reduce the chance that you will feel out of control during the meal and overeat. The concept of ‘saving up’ your calories for the big meal generally backfires and results in overeating.

It is even advisable to start a meal with soup or a healthy salad which will make it easier to eat a smaller portion of the main holiday food which tends to be richer than the food we would normally eat on a daily basis.

Go for a walk around the table and check out all the available food options before choosing

Serve yourself smaller, sample-size portions of the meal items that you would like to try the most to avoid the feeling of missing out on something.

Taking smaller amounts of different dishes allows you to partake in and enjoy the various holiday dishes without derailing your health goals. You can always go back for a normal portion of your favourite. This should help to relieve any guilt associated with mindful indulgences.

Limit the physical amount of space for starters/snacky foods

Smaller plates help to motivate you to choose the foods you really want to eat rather than piling up your plate as ‘you have extra space’. Especially if this is only the starter, an easy way to monitor how much you eat is by limiting yourself to one plate. Standing by the table and nibbling limits your control over how much you are eating. Always remember never to go to a party hungry.

FOMO (Fear of missing out) is real!

The ‘fear of missing out’ is what can lead us to eat more than we usually would in a social setting and to eat even if we are not hungry. Ask for the recipes for your favourite dishes or plan for a similar dinner night to reduce the feeling that you needed to eat more or you will lose out, especially when you are already full.

Be present in the moment

Practice Mindful Eating to help you to stay in the moment and enjoy the meal as well as being conscious of what you are eating and the amount. Try to minimize distractions during mealtimes.

Don’t eat mindlessly while multitasking as this can lead to unconscious overeating. If we are distracted, our bodies are unable to pay attention to its fullness signals.

Sample unique foods

Don’t always limit yourself to eating foods that you know because they are low in calories, also remember to sample those foods that are unique and that you find interesting, even if you do not know their exact nutritional content.

Stay hydrated and drink smarter

It is easy when busy to forget to drink enough water. Water is essential for our bodies to function correctly. Limiting the intake of alcoholic beverages is very important as not only do they contain a lot of calories, but they also result in us eating more food than we do when we don’t drink alcohol. Soda water is a great alternative to mix with your alcoholic drinks instead of using a sugary drink as a mixer. Alcoholic drinks like cocktails cause a spike in blood sugar, the resulting crash leads to an increased appetite and a higher likelihood of overeating.

Wear fitted clothes

Fitted clothes can act as a simple reminder to stop before you overeat.

Plan meals and pack snacks to avoid buying fast food

When busy, a little preparation can save you a last-minute dash for takeaways. Planning can save your money and your health goals.

Choose easy, hassle-free snacks like apples and bananas or carrots and hummus. If you keep your meal planning simple, it can be a great time and money-saving strategy. Avoid trying new or complicated meals on busy days and always try to keep backup meals in the freezer or cupboard in the case of a busy day.

This can be an easy and healthy alternative to fast food and will save you time and money. Making meal planning and preparation a priority for both meals and snacks ensures that you utilize the food that is in your house rather than it going to waste.

Some easy meal prep shortcuts include buying pre-cut fresh or frozen produce, microwavable whole grains or cooked rotisserie chickens. You will eat more healthy fruit and vegetables if you incorporate them into your daily meals. Frozen fruit and vegetables are beneficial due to their longer shelf life, the fact that they cook quickly and that they come in bulk. Canned vegetables can also be budget-friendly, but always choose the low-sodium or no-added salt option.  Seasonal vegetables are often cheaper and tastier.

Get adequate sleep

Sleep deprivation has been proven to lead to overeating as well as craving and eating, more high-calorie foods.

Sleep duration affects the hormones which regulate hunger, mainly ghrelin and leptin, resulting in the stimulation of a person’s appetite.

This all contributes to weight gain. Being tired also results in exercising less. Sleeping less can also result in your metabolism slowing down.

Be active with family and friends

Inactivity, especially if accompanied by overeating, can lead to weight gain. Physical activity has many benefits. Suggest to friends that you go for a walk or play a game instead of sitting and eating.

Consistency is key – prioritize and try and stick to your exercise plan over the holidays. Don’t get stuck in the “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality which can lead to prolonging unhealthy habits.

Snack wisely

During the holidays, we tend to stock up on high-calorie snacks like cake and chips. The more available these items are, the more likely you are going to snack more than you usually would. If you realise that you are snacking because there is food available, instead of because you are hungry, it’s best to avoid snacking altogether.

Always be mindful of snacking. However, if you are hungry and choose to snack, make sure to choose filling snacks that don’t contain added sugars or unhealthy fats which can lead to weight gain.

Watch your portion size

It’s easy to overload your plate and go back for second helpings when the food tastes good. A helpful tip is to use smaller plates and a smaller spoon to dish up the food.

If you are making the meal, read food labels, the recommended serving sizes as well as the recipes regarding how many people the recipe you are making is meant to serve. You can also use your judgment to fill your plate with a reasonable portion of food.

Control your stress levels

Cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, has been linked to weight gain because of a greater food intake. Being stressed can also cause more cravings for high calorie foods. Exercise, meditation, spending time in nature and deep breathing all help with reducing stress levels.

Managing your stress levels may even promote weight loss. Spending time in nature and gardening with your children will help with your stress levels as well as develop your children’s interest in fresh foods.

Balance out starchy meals with protein

Protein helps to keep you fuller for longer as protein takes longer to digest so it reduces hunger and appetite. Protein can increase a person’s metabolism and levels of appetite-reducing hormones.

The idea is to include 25-30 grams of a protein-containing item with each meal or snack. Remember to incorporate plant-based proteins, such as roasted chickpeas or red lentil hummus.

Focus on fibre and wholewheat starch products

Fibre is a great addition to meals as it also keeps you fuller for longer reducing the amount you eat which might help to prevent weight gain. Try to include fibre-rich foods into your meals such as vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrain starches. Use wholewheat flour to bake with. Avoid processed foods that are generally low in fibre.

Rice Krispies

Careful regarding taste-testing

With all the time spent cooking and baking during the holidays, be aware of how much you are eating while you are ‘taste testing’. Adapt recipes to make them healthier or google healthier recipes to try.

Simple changes would be to use sweetener instead of sugar or dried fruit instead of chocolate chips. When cooking, flavour dishes with fresh herbs and limit the amount of butter you add. Have a list of easy, healthy holiday recipes to choose from when you need to make something for an event.

Indulge a little

Avoiding your favourite treats altogether, especially those that you only make once a year, often leads to an unplanned binge. This is even more likely as it is a busy time of the year during which stress levels are higher. Always remember to practice moderation.

Avoid using dessert as a reward as this sets up the mentality that some foods are better or more valued than others. All foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Involve your family and friends and make healthy eating about wellness and not about weight, especially with children. Hearing positive talk from parents can help build and sustain a healthy body image and self-esteem.

Festive biscuit recipe – stained glass window biscuits (makes 20)


110g Butter

60g Brown Sugar

1 Egg Yolk

350g Plain Flour

1 Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

3 Tablespoons Ground Ginger

1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

2 Tablespoons Golden Syrup

Brightly Coloured Boiled Sweets (For Example, Sparkles)

keto ginger snaps

4 ingredient gluten free soft peanut butter cookies healthy vegan refined sugar free

1.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

2.  Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and beat well. Stir the dry ingredients then gradually add them to the bowl. Add the syrup and mix well.

3.  Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Roll the dough on a floured surface and cut out using star or heart cutter shapes. In the middle of each biscuit, cut out a shape using a smaller cutter. Use a straw to make a small hole in the top of each biscuit if you would like to hang them as an ornament later.

4.  Lay them on the prepared baking trays and place a boiled sweet in the middle of each biscuit where you have cut out a smaller shape. This will melt in the oven to create the stained-glass effect.

5.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes then remove and leave on the baking trays until the “stained glass” has set.

6.  Thread the cooled biscuits with a narrow ribbon or string and hang.

Holidays are a time to escape from the typical routines and structure of life and to relax and take a well-deserved rest with family and friends.

Allow yourself to enjoy everything the holidays have to offer in a responsible, mindful manner.

Staying on top of your health goals may feel daunting during the holidays but with a little planning, you can still maintain your goals while enjoying what the holidays have to offer.

Christmas activity gingerbread house

Yours in Wellness
Thandi and the Empact Team

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