Holiday survival guide

Ten tips to eat healthy and have fun for the holidays

While I can’t do anything to change your crazy relatives, I do have 10 tips to help you celebrate the holidays with them, without your whole-food, plant-based diet getting in the way.

1. It is good to celebrate. First, remember that holiday times are made for celebrating. You get a lot of health benefits by just relaxing and enjoying the time. Follow the tips below to be as healthy as possible at the feasts, but don’t worry so much when you can’t (or just don’t want to pass up that piece of pie).

2. Eat in good taste. I have a rule I follow when it comes to eating, especially at parties and celebrations. If it’s not good, I don’t bother. For example, if there are three types of pie with faux whipped cream, I’ll eat a small piece of the pie I like best and skip the cream (I don’t like fake anything). I feel no need to cram something in my mouth just because it’s there or everyone else is doing it.

3. Think small. When you’re presented with more dishes of food than there is room on your plate, keep your portions small—like just two tablespoons each—especially if it’s not a plant-based option. There is nearly always more in the serving dish if you are still hungry after the first round.

4. Skip the whip. As I mentioned already, I’ll skip whipped cream, or any food, if it’s fake. But I recommend always skipping it, and the ice cream that is often offered. Both those foods are not just dairy, but very high in fat. You don’t need the extra inflammation in your arteries. However, if you really don’t want to miss out, keep your serving to a tablespoon. You’ll get the same enjoyment, maybe even more.

5. Eat fresh first. If you’re looking for a way to cut down on the quantity of food, or you're browsing a buffet line or scanning hors d’oeuvres, pick the foods that are as fresh as possible and in as whole a form as possible first. For example, if there is salad, fresh cranberry sauce and whole potatoes, load up (skip the high-fat dressing) and then add the other items in small amounts.

6. Look out for hidden dangers. Years ago a friend’s husband tried to eat low-fat meals, and skip the eggs. He was on to something (although my friend and I didn’t know it at the time). My friend would pretend to make healthy things, but then sneak in an egg or fat at the last minute. Let that be your warning. If something tastes creamy or “rich” unless you know for a fact it's plant-based, assume there is a lot of fat in it, especially if it glistens. Minimize these foods on your plate. You’ll thank me later when everyone else is groaning and you're up for a sprint.

7. Take a hike. Speaking of moving, it is customary for many families to take a stroll after eating the big meal. If no one proposes it, make the suggestion yourself. Even if everyone else can only make it around the block.

8. Don’t butter ‘em up. With all the hidden fat you’ll probably be eating don’t make it worse. When the butter makes the rounds after the rolls are passed, politely pass it on.

9. Don’t be a glutton. Wikipedia defines gluttony as “over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items.” And the Bible says, “The drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty.” While I don’t believe one meal of over-indulgence makes you a glutton, I also believe we don’t need to be gluttons to enjoy our meals. Eat until you’re full. You’ll enjoy the food more and you’ll feel better when you’re done.

10. Remember. The holidays are often linked with emotional eating because of the comfort and tradition we associate with certain foods. So if you’re really struggling to eat healthily, focus on the “why” of your plant-based diet. For some it’s okay to eat a sample of this or that. For others, especially those who eat a whole-food, plant-based diet for its health benefits, it’s not okay. Don’t think of yourself as deprived, think of yourself as energized.

As you sit with your friends and family members around the holiday table this season, try not to get upset if they start giving you a hard time about your lifestyle choice. I have a prediabetic friend who frequently would get his “digs” in. The last time he said something, I lightheartedly replied, “Keep that up, and I won’t visit you in the hospital when you get sick.” He stopped after that.

Keep in mind, that if someone is offended by your choices it usually has to do with a lack of understanding, or they feel as though your choice somehow reflects poorly on their own. Don’t use the holiday table as a time to promote the benefits of a plant-based diet. Instead, use it as a time to enjoy one another in peace, as far as it’s up to you.