You barely sleep due to the anxiety of having to wake up at an ungodly hour. The terminal is already packed when you get to the airport and the three people in front of you in the security line act like they’ve never been on a plane before. The guy in front of you forgets to take off his metal belt buckle and sets off the sensors, and when you get to the gate you find your flight has been oversold. When you finally get on your flight, you end up sitting next to a talkative salesman who smells like he hasn’t had a good shower in a couple days.
When you arrive at your destination, your overbearing parents are waiting to pick you up and judge you for every choice you’ve made in the past year. At dinner, your uncle asks every fifteen minutes why you’re not eating the turkey and tells you again his theory on why humans need to eat meat to survive. But even if you’re not eating the turkey, there’s a heck of a lot of unhealthy food lying around, and it seems to have an irresistible pull. By the end of the weekend, you’ve overeaten for four consecutive days and are in danger of entering a shame spiral that lasts through to the new year. Does any of this sound familiar?
It’s no wonder the stress surrounding holiday time leads to holiday overeating. Studies have shown that when cortisol levels are high, we crave hyper-palatable unhealthy foods. So how are we to navigate this time of the year and still maintain a healthy, plant-based diet? I’ve got five tips for you to employ to give yourself the best chance of survival.
Tip #1: Breakfast
Eat a hearty breakfast the day of your Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah meal. You should be doing this all the time anyway, but eating a filling, nutrient-dense breakfast full of fiber will help you deal with temptation later on in the day. Something like a big bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds and berries will cut hunger, control your blood sugar, and give you a good chance of making good decisions come dinner time. If you happen to be traveling, you could bring a small Tupperware container with some overnight soaked oatmeal along with you on the plane. Just prep oatmeal the night before in the container and leave it in the fridge overnight to grab and go.
Tip #2: Host the Holidays at Your House
If you’re hosting omnivores and you don’t have a moral objection to having meat in your house, let them know they’re welcome to bring their own meat dish but that you’ll be preparing exclusively plant-based dishes. Most holiday dishes can be made healthfully anyways, so being at home and in control of the food, although stressful in it’s own right, is really your best option. Two of my favorite resources for plant-based holiday recipes are Happy Herbivore and Fat Free Vegan. If you don’t want animal products in your house at all, just go nuts with the recipes in the links above and you’ll be covered. Those who demand turkey will just have to find it elsewhere.
Tip #3: Bring Your Own Dishes
If you’re going to someone else’s house but don’t have to travel to another city, bring at least two of your own dishes. Let your host know in advance that you’ll be bringing extra, and try to take as much pressure off of him or her as possible. “Hey, I’ve got some weird dietary restrictions so I’m going to bring a couple dishes along, cool?” Most people are happy to have the additional food, and they’ll be relieved they won’t have to worry about what your food parameters are, trust me. A good strategy is to bring one hearty main dish or side and one healthy dessert. That way you’ll be able to make good choices at all points during the meal. If you’re going somewhere where you know the host is an awful or a particularly unhealthy cook, well, you might need to bring more than two dishes, but keep it simple.
Tip #4: Eat Before You Go
If you don’t feel comfortable bringing food along or you won’t be able to, pre-eat. I know this probably goes against everything you’re used to, but it works. Eat food before you go to a Thanksgiving or Christmas party so you won’t be as tempted to eat the food you know is bad for you. A huge plate of steamed greens or a big green smoothie is always a good option, and even if you end up eating some unhealthy food, the chances of you overeating are minimized. This will also come in handy if you have to go to any office holiday parties with platters of fried snacks and chips everywhere.
Tip #5: Remember Why You Eat This Way
Shore up your nutrition knowledge and remind yourself why you’re eating a plant-based diet. In the next week or so, read or re-read an inspiring and informative nutrition book (here are some good options) or watch a film about nutrition. When information is fresh in your mind and you’re inspired to stay committed to your principles, it’s easier to navigate any potential pitfalls or temptations.
This time of year makes it tough to stay on point with your diet, and if you aren’t perfect, don’t sweat it. But if you try some of the suggestions above, you’ll be putting yourself in a much better position to succeed.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.