5 Dietitian Tips on Managing Stress & Health During the Holidays

Posted December 12, 2023
Holiday Table SettingAs a dietitian, I believe that feeling well can and should extend into the holiday season. While it is a lovely time for many reasons, it can also put us out of our normal routine, making it difficult to prioritize ourselves physically and emotionally.

This year, I challenge you to abandon an all-or-nothing holiday approach. You can enjoy rest from exercise while also fitting in some time for joyful movement to avoid feeling sluggish. Similarly, you can enjoy fun foods without stress and guilt, while also intentionally adding some fiber and protein to support energy and digestion. Your priorities may change depending on the plan that day. The following are a few tips for feeling your best this season– take from them what resonates with you!

Prioritize eating regularly

I bet most dietitians would agree with me on this one- it is difficult to eat mindfully and enjoy your food (and to stay sane around your quirky relatives) if you are not eating enough. Holiday meals can be larger than usual and occur at odd hours of the day, but this isn’t an excuse to skip meals. Eating regularly allows for blood sugar stability, which results in more even moods and energy levels.

If your holiday meal is at midday, treat it like lunch. If it’s midafternoon, treat it like an early dinner. Yes, that means I still recommend eating your regular meals and snacks surrounding the holiday meal. And yes, they can be leftovers from the meal itself!

Manage Mental Health – Set Boundaries, Identify Support

While the holidays can be fun and joyous, they can also be stressful, with numerous plans and commitments. It’s important to set boundaries with your time and energy. For instance, if you know you max out your ability to socialize with family after 10 hours, set boundaries ahead of time on when you need to leave. 

It may also be helpful to step away for a moment –bundle up and take a walk, offer to run an errand, or call a friend. This may involve having a go-to support person to contact if the conversation starts to get stressful with political dialogue or worse, your relative’s dieting plans for the new year.

Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep is especially important when the rest of your normal routine is out of whack. Along with regular eating, getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night) allows you to feel more stable in mood, get better in touch with hunger/fullness cues, and manage your emotions when faced with a lot of social time. You could also consider naps as an opportunity to rest or take a social break – turn on a movie and have a quick snooze.

Stay Hydrated and Mindful of Alcohol

Staying hydrated is important for feeling well during the holidays. When we travel, eat different foods, and are off our normal routines, our digestion can be affected. Staying hydrated is one way to keep things regular. It also can keep energy levels and mood stable. 

I recommend bringing a reusable water bottle along to holiday celebrations, especially if traveling. Along these lines, consider being mindful of alcohol. This could look like an intention to drink a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages, to limit the total intake of alcohol, or to take breaks/days off from alcohol intake altogether.

Set Gentle Boundaries Surrounding Food & Diet Talk

One of the trickiest parts of the holidays can be how, all of a sudden, everyone you know – from the coworker you sit next to at the office to your great aunt who you haven’t seen in a year – is talking about their upcoming diet for the new year. 

There can also be more subtle comments about being “so bad” for getting that second slice of pie or unsolicited advice about food, your body, or how you look. Whatever it may be, you have options:

Change the Subject: 

“It sounds like you’re feeling happy about that choice. Anyway, did you watch the new season of [insert tv show]? What did you think about…”

Gently set boundaries: 

“It makes me uncomfortable when you comment about my food choices (and/or body). Let’s talk about something else.”

Call it out:

“My food choices don’t reflect on my moral value or worth. Getting seconds of mashed potatoes is morally neutral.”

Happy holidays! Enjoy the people you love and your favorite foods!

Adrienne DinkArticle by Adrienne Dink, MS, RD, LDN
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