The holiday season is as wonderful as it can be stressful. As fulfilling as it can be filling. Most of us are lucky enough to love our families. And also lucky enough to know healthy eating habits. Yes sometimes, the craziness of the holiday season gets the better of us.
For some advice as to how to keep my healthy habits going between Thanksgiving week and New Year's, I turned to Kristin O'Connor, private chef, published author and contributing blogger to The Honest Company. From New York to Los Angeles and anywhere in between, her creativity and individualized approach to diet has turned heads in Hollywood, warmed up everyone's kitchen and excited the taste buds of clients, friends and family. Beyond her amazing recipes, however, I love Kristin because of the quasi-psychological approach she takes to food -- which is particularly relevant this time of year.
AP: While I grew up in Switzerland without Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite holiday of the year. Partly because it is all about family and food. What are your tips to enjoying this holiday without over-indulging?
KO:I completely agree. There is something special about a gathering that includes sitting around a table for hours on end surrounded by family and friends...and food. Food is love and as a private chef, I feel that connection every day. I cook healthy food because I want to make people healthier, so they can live their fullest life both today and 10, 20 years from now. So when I create recipes, every single ingredient I add to my recipes are designed to provide some kind of benefit. What I've learned is that understanding someone's likes and dislikes, or their weight goals is just as important as learning that person's relationship with food. This is where my strategy for Thanksgiving comes into play...
Some of us love to be surrounded by family, for others it's anxiety provoking; it brings us joy, sadness, disappointment, or fulfillment. These are all very strong emotions. The best thing you can do for yourself around the holidays is work on mindful eating. Pay attention to the moments where you find yourself eating too much or skipping meals...both equally unhealthy for your overall health and metabolism. Take notice of how you feel at those moments -- sometimes just paying attention and asking yourself 'am I hungry," will make or break the holiday binge. If you find yourself cornered by your crazy aunt and your hand keeps reaching down to a big brick of brie, take a beat and ask yourself if you're actually hungry. Usually the answer is no. So at that moment, take a deep breath, give your well-intentioned aunt a few more minutes of your company, then excuse yourself to the restroom. Step away from the moment of stress or discomfort instead of force feeding for comfort.
Another thought about over eating during the holidays comes out of this constant need for stimulation -- we are always on our phones, fiddling with something, busy busy busy. When we take time to sit still, sometimes that makes us a bit uncomfortable and the instinct is to fill that quiet space with food or drink. Instead, try to pick someone in the room and really focus your attention on them, ask real questions about their life and have a concentrated conversation... something we could all probably stand to do more frequently.
As far as limiting yourself to certain foods, drinks or desserts -- I say don't. Moderation is everything. One thing I do on a day that I'm not eating three whole meals is I try to mentally tally what I've eaten by picturing it on three plates. My meals are always a balance of protein, heavy on non-starchy vegetables, moderate to light on complex carbs, plus a bit of healthy fat. We need good fat so that our bodies can absorb nutrients, so don't avoid it all together. The second we skip dinner the night before or starve ourselves for days leading up, or days after, just to stuff our faces on the day of... all we are really doing is confusing the heck out of our bodies and metabolism. Eat normally before Thanksgiving so you aren't starving. Try to think of Thanksgiving as a normal meal and challenge yourself to eat within the parameters of balance. You may go a little over your normal intake, but concentrate on getting full on turkey, green beans, and salad, and then take small amounts of your guilty pleasures -- stuffing, cornbread, desserts, etc.
To review -- and we all need reminding of this -- treat your body like you want your body to treat you. Tell yourself good things about your body, give yourself plenty of real food, and healthy food, and on the occasion you slip a little, promise me this: let it go. Hit up an exercise class, or get back to your regular meals, because the wonderful truth of the matter is that you'll make a full recovery.
AP: Holiday parties are fun and hopefully plentiful. How can I make sure I enjoy them and still fit in my cute New Year's Eve outfit come December 31?
KO: As far as strategizing for parties, keep in mind that for the most part, parties are in the evening. During the day, eat breakfast and lunch and maybe a little snack before the party -- all meals should have lean protein and loads of veggies. That way you are keeping your routine consistent and your body will love you for that. There are a lot of physiological reasons why you need to eat regularly. Keeping your blood sugar balanced, keeps your stress hormones in check and your metabolism rolling...your body is a system that works for you as long as you remember to treat it well. That means eating nutrient dense foods on a regular basis with plentiful hydration. If you want youthful skin, a dewy glow, and a strong body, then eat!! Eat a healthy breakfast, balanced lunch and dinner and maybe have a small snack or two. Don't be afraid of food or think about it too much. We tend to beat ourselves up for 'slipping' now and then, but the irony is that stressing is far more harmful than a sliver of pumpkin pie.
AP: Let's imagine I wanted to start my 2015 healthy eating resolutions on the 26th of November 2014. How would you help guide my thinking?
KO: Health Resolutions on November 26 sound like such a great idea! Here's what I suggest:
1. Try to understand your individual relationship with food. What makes you over or under eat and how does that make you feel?
2. Instead of concentrating on what you shouldn't have, aim to include things you know you SHOULD eat every day...greens, lean protein, raw nuts, beans, seeds, non-starchy veggies.
3. If you have a sweet tooth, switch to a bite of dark (over 75 percent) chocolate when that craving strikes. Dark chocolate contains a much lower sugar and fat content than traditional desserts, and you will also get dense nutrients, anti-oxidants and a little boost in serotonin (your happy hormone).
4. Find a fun way to exercise. Fitness classes (in the winter are especially) important -- you will be far more motivated when you have the accountability to being somewhere at a specific time Even better if you can bring a friend, so someone else is making sure you get to that class!
5. For those days when it's just too cold, have a good at home routine -- there are many online resources, dvd's, and youtube channels to follow along to if you need.
6. Get motivated -- one of the best ways I keep myself on track is to set my alarm earlier and work out first thing in the morning...lay your work out clothes out the night before and I promise they will start judging you the second you walk past them in the morning without putting them on. Fool proof.
6. Drink tons of water. The winter months are so drying, so we need to make sure we focus a lot more on hydration. Just picture keeping that skin plush and smooth with every sip!
7. Remember that alcohol is synonymous with calories, so try to minimize how much and how frequently you're drinking. If you're feeling pressured to have that 2nd or 3rd glass of wine at a party, tell everyone you're working through a holiday cleanse and stick to hot green tea and sparkling water (add a lime if you're feeling fancy!) It works.
8. Hangover cure? WATER. You get hangover because you are dehydrated... dehydration is mean to your body. You get dry, wrinkly skin, headaches, fatigue, and that foggy feeling we all wish we could escape. If I drink a little too much, I try to drink tons of water before going to bed and leave a big glass of water by my bed. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I chug it. First thing when you wake up -- chug again. I don't recommend chugging any other beverages. Other than that, if you can stomach a green smoothie the next day, it's an awesome kickstart.
Good luck to all of us and happy holidays!
And as a bonus, two healthy recipes designed by Kristin O'Connor especially to help us enjoy the holiday season in the most healthful, nutrient-rich manner.
2 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk (*you can even make your own, video instruction on kristinoconnor.com)
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 cup fresh baby kale or lacinato, (aka dino or tuscan) kale
2 scoops brown rice protein powder
1 teaspoon agave
1/3 fresh or frozen banana
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional)
1 teaspoon matcha (optional)
*Use organic ingredients whenever possible, but in this recipe if you have to choose, make sure the greens are organic.
Blend all ingredients using an immersion blender, stand blender or bullet. Blend for about 2 minutes until ingredients are smooth and well combined. No kale clumps in this smoothie!
Blending your greens creates an optimal opportunity for your body to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients the greens have to offer. This smoothie serves up protein, fiber, anti-oxidants and 2 servings of vegetables, you can't ask for a better pre-Thanksgiving snack. Plus it tastes creamy and delicious!
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup artichoke hearts (I opt for the artichokes in a vacuum sealed bag)
4 cups arugula
1 cup cooked quinoa
½ cup sliced grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons pepitas (I love the sprouted kind)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Hearty squeeze of a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
dash of large grain sea salt
1 tablespoon flaxseeds *optional
To start this salad, warm a skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and artichoke hearts and sear for about a minute. Flip and sear on the opposite side for an additional minute. You just want to gently brown the artichokes.
Next, grab a medium salad bowl; add arugula and then pile on all remaining ingredients. Gently toss with large spoons and serve immediately.
This is a simple, light, nutrient dense meal that provides a perfect balance of protein, complex carbohydrates and delicious vegetables with diverse textures to excite your taste buds. Remember not to leave out the olive oil. You need that touch of fat to help your body absorb all these great nutrients!
Ada Polla is the Founder and CEO of Alchimie Forever skincare.