There is one surefire way to reduce the stress of holiday cooking: stick to what you know.
However, in this world of "clean eating" and never-ending hacks on how to lighten recipes, it can be hard to feel comfortable preparing traditional recipes.
Here is the secret: there is a way to get through the holidays without being fearful of holiday weight gain or overeating even if you eat special holiday foods. Hint: it has nothing to do with skipping meals, switching out sugar for agave syrup or passing up your favourite foods and feeling deprived). It is called mindful or intuitive eating.
Let me be clear -- I am not against changing up a recipe to better suit modern tastes and ingredients. I am, however, against cutting calories or using specialty ingredient to the detriment of recipes, your budget and meal satisfaction. So, before you go out and buy expensive or hard to find ingredients that won't even change the healthiness of the recipe; before you lighten-up a recipe and feel compelled to eat too much of it because it just doesn't taste good, hear me out.
You could lighten up your recipes if you really wanted to... or you could eat more according to your hunger levels. I know that "eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full" has been thrown around a lot these days and is usually met with an eye roll and sigh of exasperation. However, this is not the full story.
There are three things you can do to help yourself use your hunger (rather than emotions or appetite) to guide your eating:
1. Allow yourself to make the recipe again, later in the year.
2. Refuse to jump into a crazy diet in January.
3. Listen to your thoughts and emotions before eating.
Let's be realistic, you probably won't all of a sudden learn how to eat mindfully over the holidays. It takes practice and time to understand why you are eating. But starting to see food and eating in a different light and feeling less doomed to over eat can make the holidays a lot more enjoyable.
Make that recipe again and again
A table full of foods that come around only once a year is just begging you to eat too much. How easy is it to stop eating when full if you won't get another chance for another 364 days? Practically impossible. On top of the scarcity of these dishes, if you throw in feeling guilty for eating foods you've labelled as fattening or forbidden then your odds of walking away feeling full but not stuffed is almost zero.
Allowing your favourite dishes to be enjoyed more often can take away the glamour of them. The more we eat a food, the less we put it up on a pedestal and the better we can judge its true flavors. You may be surprised at how less tasty it is the more you allow yourself to eat it slowly without guilt.
Ditch the diet resolutions
Knowing that you are going to pass through January in a daze of hunger in the hopes that your self esteem will miraculously improve when you lose weight (ahem...it doesn't), only fuels cravings and appetite during the holidays.
Often people think of it as the "last supper" or "last chance to eat what I want" before starting an ineffective diet. With this frame of mind how can you not eat to bursting with the thought of physical and mental starvation looming ahead? Take dieting, deprivation and hunger out of the equation for January and just see how you eat.
Pause to listen to your body before eating
Before sitting down to a meal or entering a party, take 30 seconds to check into your body and mind. How hungry are you before you see and smell the food? Are there any emotions that may push you to eat more than you want (stress, anxiety, sadness)? Are there any thoughts running through your head that may lead you to eat when you are not hungry ("get it now while you still can, the diet starts tomorrow!", "there is no point in trying to eat healthy, you always screw it up and stuff your face" or "so-and-so is not here to get on my back about eating this. I better eat it while I can!").
Simply understanding why you are eating when no longer hungry can help you eat less. The goal is not to eat only healthy foods or walk away hungry -- the goal is to better understand why you continued to eat when already stuffed so that next time you can eat and feel comfortable leaving the party.
You could set yourself up for a night of painful overeating by skipping lunch to make room for a feast at supper. You could make food that tastes like cardboard and is disappointing. You could go out and buy a host of expensive or hard to find ingredients that don't improve the nutrition of your dish. Or you could eat a delicious lunch and head into supper hungry (but not starving), eat the foods you really love and leave the table feeling satisfied and full.
Baking is a science and there are only so many changes you can make to a recipe before it becomes something entirely different. Of course, there is no harm in trying to make a dish contain less bad fat or more veggies, but if it leaves you in tears, or worse, encourages you to over eat just because it is healthy, than the point is lost.
Understanding the difference between true hunger and appetite, acknowledging when emotions are dictating what, when and how much you eat and removing guilt and judgement about food are all helpful ways to eat healthier over the holidays. Rather than scouring Pinterest for hacks to make your favourite dishes (so-called) healthier and hoping for the best when these hacks are put to the test -- try following the traditional recipe and embracing mindful eating.
Download this reminder card and keep it handy over the holidays!