During the holidays, it can be easy to over-indulge in rich family recipes or feel you have to avoid dishes you love in order to be healthy. Here are some easy ways to combat food guilt, trust your body, and practice self-care during this festive season.
In this article:
- Enjoying Holiday Gatherings Without Guilt
- 10 Tips for Fertility-Friendly Holiday Nutrition
- Plan Ahead
- Bring Your Own Favorite Dish
- Aim for a Balanced Holiday Plate
- Stay Hydrated
- Practice Intuitive Eating
- Remember to Breathe
- Make Sleep a Priority
- Take Time for Quiet
- Keep Your Body Moving
- The Holidays Are About More Than Food
Enjoying Holiday Gatherings Without Guilt
The holiday season is in full swing and with it comes the joy and excitement (and sometimes, the anxiety or stress) of festive gatherings and meals with family and friends. Whether you have been working hard all year to establish healthy eating habits or are just getting started now, you can get through the holiday stretch without hurting your progress!
As a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with fertility patients every day, I know how tricky it can be to maintain balance while still enjoying family gatherings. Let's talk about some easy ways to take care of your body and mind during this busy time of year.
10 Tips for Fertility-Friendly Holiday Nutrition
Here are ten helpful tips that will empower you to start or continue to make choices that will support your fertility and overall well being - all while still being able to enjoy the holidays!
1. Plan Ahead
Should you skip your usual meal times to "save room" for big holiday dinners? No! Here's what we recommend doing instead to set yourself up for success:
Starting your day with a balanced meal can jumpstart your metabolism, stabilize blood sugar and mood and limit the likelihood of overeating later in the day.
Pro tip: Egg casseroles are an easy make-ahead breakfast option and a crowd pleaser on holiday mornings! Here's a delicious recipe to try, if you need some inspiration.
This is especially important when travel is involved (as we all know how often holiday delays can arise). Having balanced snacks on hand can help stabilize blood sugar and limit less desirable choices made in a bind.
Pro tip: Trail mix, peanut butter and crackers, or Kind bars are all easy grab-and-go options that can keep you from arriving hungry. And we all know to never to go to a party hungry, right?
2. Bring Your Own Favorite Dish
Whether what you choose to bring to the party embodies our fertile-friendly nutrition principles or simply soothes your soul, you can count on having at least one yummy food option you know you enjoy and find pleasure in eating. (This is especially important if you have any food allergies or are trying to avoid certain ingredients.)
You might even end up introducing others to a new favorite dish in the process!
Pro tip: Here's a quick and delicious festive quinoa recipe to try.
3. Aim for a Balanced Holiday Plate
As you survey all the delicious options on the table and build your plate, remember that it doesn't have to be perfect! However, if you're trying to fuel your body and keep blood sugar balanced, here are some easy ways to do it.
Make It Colorful
Load up half your plate with vibrant fruits and veggies! "Eating the rainbow" can help check the boxes for getting important fertile-friendly nutrients in your day (even if they may be in a slightly richer form than usual).
Here's what to look for: Brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, and broccoli are notable holiday side dish favorites and are rich in fertile-friendly nutrients like folate, vitamin A and C, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber.
Pick Your Protein
Including a source of protein on your plate is key for stabilizing blood sugar levels, particularly when faced with carb-heavy sides and festive, sugary treats.
- Fish and seafood options are a great source of omega-3 fats, as well as protein
- Plant protein from beans and nuts are great for protecting ovulatory function
- While you may usually limit your intake of red meat, beef, pork, and lamb are all great sources of iron and B12, which are key nutrients for fertility (and pregnancy)
- Chicken and turkey are also great protein-packed options that will up your iron intake
Choose Carbs Wisely
Carbohydrates are usually in abundance in a holiday spread, and contrary to popular belief, you don't need to avoid carbs entirely! That said, choosing fiber-rich options such as quinoa, barley, bulgur, or lentils will help slow the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream.
Bonus: Quinoa and lentils also pack a protein punch!
Pro tip: Dedicate about ¼ of your plate to carbs and pair them with heart-healthy fats and/or protein to help keep your glucose from going too high or too low.
Include Beneficial Fats
Nuts and cheese are often plentiful in holiday appetizers and dishes and be a great source of calcium and fat-soluble vitamins, so don't worry about avoiding fats altogether!
Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
The way holiday dishes and sides (including meat and veggies) are prepared will affect the amount you may want to include on your plate, due to the richness of some ingredients (like lots of butter or cheese).
Choosing some of the higher fiber choices mentioned above can help fill you up, making it easier to keep portions of other, more decadent foods in check.
4. Stay Hydrated
Drinking at least 60-80oz of water per day helps support fertility and conception, not to mention your overall health (including nutrient absorption, organ function, energy levels, and weight control).
Start drinking (water!) early, and bring a water bottle with you (stashed with your belongings) to make it easier to stay hydrated throughout the day, and help control satiety when the mealtime festivities begin.
Spice it up!
Water may seem like a boring choice for some, especially when colorful holiday cocktails are being passed around. Luckily, there are loads of non-alcoholic "mocktail" options that keep sugar and calories low while still providing some fizz and fun.
Even options as simple as club soda with lemon and lime or berries and your favorite seltzer can satisfy your thirst (and make you feel like you're holding a real cocktail, which can help you feel more comfortable and avoid those invasive "Are you pregnant?" inquiries).
Pro tip: Here's a festive Apple Ginger Moscow Mule Mocktail recipe to try!
5. Practice Intuitive Eating
Savor all the flavors and textures, eat slowly and mindfully, and enjoy the conversation - as well as the food. Find comfort in trusting your body, your satiety (fullness), and focusing on your fertility goals.
Be confident in your right to say "no thank you" when asked to eat a dish that doesn't appeal to you, your decision to decline a second dessert, or your choice to leave food on your plate.
Remember: You can always ask to pack up some leftovers - the host may appreciate not having a ton of holiday food crowding their fridge and freezer!
6. Remember to Breathe
Managing stress is key when trying to conceive. This means finding things to do that you find relaxing or enjoyable and/or reducing (or eliminating) things that are stressful.
Whether you're hosting a holiday gathering or visiting the home of a friend or family member, there are things you can do to create a "safe haven" for your body and mind.
Pro tip: Team up with someone you trust (or a therapist) to talk through any possible anxiety-inducing situations ahead of time and rely on them for support if needed.
7. Make Sleep a Priority
During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to slip out of your normal self-care practices - particularly when it comes to rest and sleep. Remember that rest is important for your physical and mental health!
Pro tip: Look for opportunities to take a cozy cat nap by the fire when you need it.
8. Take Time for Quiet
Family gatherings feeling a bit too loud and chaotic? Take time out for some meditation or yoga and allow yourself some moments of extra relaxation and mindfulness.
It's always okay to step away from the holiday hubbub to re-center yourself, especially when you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Spending time with family and friends can be a joyful experience - but it can also be overstimulating (and for some, may also bring up unpleasant emotions and involve interactions with challenging people).
Reminder: You can take care of yourself - no matter what's going on around you.
9. Keep Your Body Moving
Even though holiday schedules can be hectic, incorporating even short spurts of physical activity will help protect your physical and mental well being, not to mention reduce anxiety and blood pressure, and improve sleep and insulin sensitivity.
Stick to your routine (or a modified version) if possible. If you're running from one event to the next and timing is tight, sneak away for a walk outside or download a free fitness app for some quick and easy workouts.
Pro tip: Don’t stress if you can't find time for movement on hectic days - just try to choose another form of self-care instead (this can be as simple as a 3-minute meditation or a brisk walk around the block).
10. The Holidays Are About More Than Food
Playing games or watching holiday movies to round out a food-focused day. Both activities are a great way to share laughs and release feel-good endorphins, which can boost your mood. Winter walks or a family 5K can also provide an opportunity to enjoy quality time with those you love while staying active.
Do Your Best & Enjoy Each Moment
While the holiday season does often mean a busier calendar and more decadent, special meals, it's important to find balance and time to practice self-care amongst the chaos.
You can be mindful about what you're putting into your body AND not feel guilty for eating the foods you love. You can listen to what your body needs AND enjoy everything in moderation. Lastly, don't beat yourself up if you do over-indulge here and there - tomorrow is a new day, and you don't need to punish or restrict to "make up" for what you ate.
Happy Holidays from the Nutrition Team here at Illume Fertility!
Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been providing nutrition guidance to children and adults for over 20 years. She currently supports both PCOS and fertility patients at Illume Fertility with her broad experience and unique perspective. Jill is passionate about helping people work towards their healthiest selves by providing evidence-based, sustainable, personalized diet and lifestyle guidance.