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Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition

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Surviving Holiday Meals…Tips for Those with Eating Disorders


Special occasions or holidays often involve family rituals and traditions with food. However, holidays pose unique challenges for people with disordered eating or eating disorders that often disrupt the joyful part of their celebration. For an individual who is preoccupied with food, eating and weight, nearly 100% of the time every other day of the year, these events can feel especially overwhelming when food (especially “forbidden” food) is an integral part of the gathering.

At the same time, with the hectic schedules many people have today, these holiday meals may be one of the few times that a family comes together to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

Learning to manage these social situations involving food may be a critical part to an individual’s path to recovery and finding peace with food, eating and weight.

Following are some tips to help you or a loved one prepare…

Planning for the Meal

Planning ahead may be the key to helping you challenge the anxiety or potential struggles with holiday meals, so you can relax and enjoy good times with friends and family.

Consider how and when the meal will be served. Will the food be served family style or at a buffet? How will that affect your ability to follow through with your meal plan? To prevent overeating or restriction, you may want to ask what is on the menu and decide ahead of time what food fits in your meal plan.

Will the meal be served at your usual eating time, or will you need to adjust your food plan? For example, if the meal will be served later than you typically eat lunch, eating a balanced breakfast and snack prior to the meal event can help decrease overeating.  It’s okay to ask for something you need; and, it’s important to not allow yourself to get too hungry. Eating less all day to “save up” for the party is not helpful. Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue. It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack.

What will you need for support to be successful at the event? If there are topics or conversations that are especially triggering, it may be helpful to rehearse ahead of time how you will manage these situations. What could you say in response, or would it be more helpful to quietly leave the room and join another conversation?

For some folks or situations, it may be important to have a plan before going home about what you will do for support after the gathering. Bringing home leftovers may not be helpful. Also, know who and where your support people are, and/or have a plan for distractions or non-food ways to comfort or soothe yourself, if necessary.

At the party or gathering 

  • Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people.
  • Bring along a dish or food that you enjoy and complements your meal plan.
  • Try to eat mindfully and give yourself permission to savor the tasty holiday foods!
  • Continue to follow your meal plan for the entire day, and stay well-hydrated by drinking water.
  • Eat at an appropriate pace.
  • Bring along an item such as an affirmation card, a picture, or a journal for some comfort throughout the day.
  • Talk with loved ones about things unrelated to food, weight or the eating disorder.
  • Enjoy your relationships and try to reflect on feelings of gratitude for blessings received – remember it’s not just about the food.

AND…Remember to Breathe! Taking slow, deep breaths may help produce a state of calmness and relaxation.


Gather Support!

  • Talk to family and friends about what is helpful and what isn’t, i.e. no diet, “fat”, or weight talk.
  • Consider choosing a loved one to be your “reality check” with food, to either remind you of food portions or check in with about your meal plan.
  • Choose someone to reach out to or call if you are struggling with negative thoughts, eating disorder behaviors, or difficult emotions. Talking to a supportive person ahead of time and letting them know about your concerns and needs may help assure you they are open and willing to receiving your call, when needed.
  • Stay active with any therapy appointments or groups you may be attending.
  • Discuss your anxiety or anticipations of the holidays with a professional, such as a therapist or dietitian, so they can help you predict, prepare for, and get through any uncomfortable family interactions without self-destructive coping attempts.
  • Talk with loved ones about important issues: decisions, victories, challenges, fears, concerns, dreams, special moments, spirituality, and relationships. Allow meaningful themes to be present and allow yourself to have fun (rather than rigidly focusing on food or body thoughts).

Enjoy (and Give Back) with These Non-Food Activities:

  • Relax and watch your favorite holiday movie with a close friend or family member.
  • Seek out a few holiday craft fairs.
  • Go out and look at lights and holiday decorations.
  • Attend holiday concerts and plays.
  • Baby-sit for someone so they can shop.
  • Participate in local charity events to celebrate giving back to the community.
  • Find out what’s going on around town. Look in the local newspaper to get fun holiday ideas.
  • Purchase or make a gift for someone who is less fortunate than you.
  • Enjoy the winter season. Go ice skating, have snowball fights, or make a snow sculpture in your yard.
  • Challenge yourself to find activities that don’t focus on food, but instead are about relaxing and enjoying the season.

General Ideas to Keep in Mind:

  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Don’t forget about other coping mechanisms (yoga, deep breathing, relaxation imagery, journal, etc.).
  • Choose to move in mindful ways. This might be a good time for a peaceful leisure walk under the stars with a loved one instead of a busy or intense exercise class.winter-walk
  • Flexibility in your thoughts is what you’re striving for. Learn to be less critical in guidelines for yourself and in expectations for others.
  • Overbooking and over-stressing yourself will only lead to unhelpful coping strategies. Cut down on unnecessary events and obligations and leave time for relaxation, contemplation, reflection, and enjoying the small but important things in life.
  • The holidays come and go every year. You can and will survive!

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What’s on Your “Day After” Thanksgiving Day Menu

The Thanksgiving Day feast is right around the corner! Just the thought of some of our favorite seasonal foods and heirloom recipes can make the mouth water. For some, the plan is to just throw caution to the wind and enjoy this ONE day of feasting. Not a bad idea. But, what about the next day? What about those leftovers?

Whether your plan is to practice some moderate restraint or throw caution to the wind at holiday meals or events, many people struggle to get back on track with their usual diet the day after the big meal.

Too often one day of indulgence seems to turn into a downward spiral of over-eating that culminates on January 2. My recommendation is to plan for the day after. What’s on your menu for the Friday after Thanksgiving or the big holiday party? Instead of diving into plates filled with leftovers of carb-laden goodness in the days that follow your holiday event, consider planning out your meals for the following week. Add plenty of wholesome fruits and veggies to your shopping list while being mindful of including a selection of some of your Thanksgiving day foods to your meals, such as adding leftover turkey to a colorful salad or paring leftover cranberry salad and green beans with grilled salmon.

The recipe that follows is a wonderful example of a flavorful and nutritious salad that you can “look forward to” even after the big feast!

Pomegranate, Pear and Walnut Salad

shutterstock_pomegranate salad cropped

This gorgeous salad is loaded with seasonal favorites – pomegranate seeds, pears and cranberries. Enjoy as a tasty side dish to any meal or add in some leftover Thanksgiving day turkey or roasted chicken for a great entree salad.

Main Ingredients:

  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • 1 pear, sliced
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 ounces goat or blue cheese, crumbled


  • 2 tbsp pomegranate balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash pepper


  1. Combine greens in large bowl with other main ingredients.
  2. In small bowl, combine vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk to blend. Drizzle over salad, toss to combine.
  3. Optional: add chopped chicken breast or leftover turkey for a wonderful entree salad.

Yield: 6 servings

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5 Tips for a Healthy Holiday


Thanksgiving is upon us! Typically thought of as the day of “football and the fatty feast”, it’s also that time of year – you know the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day featuring endless buffets and tempting carb-laden goodies.  There’s no reason you can’t “have your pie and be healthy too!” But, a few important tips may be the key to help you make it through this blissful time of year.

Holiday weight gain (and frankly indigestion) tends to be related more to “how” we eat rather than “what” we eat. Yes, eating a bunch of highly palatable food doesn’t help with weight management, but throw in alcohol, dieting, busyness and stress and you have a perfect recipe for over-eating.  (Read more about this)  So, how can you make sure you are able to successfully enjoy your holiday parties, time with family and friends and manage your weight at the same time?


Holiday cooking was sheer joy in my grandmother’s Nebraska kitchen!

1. Set yourself up for success.  Eating less all day to “save up” for the Thanksgiving feast or holiday party is not helpful.  Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue.  It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack, such as at the holiday party or gathering.  Take time to enjoy a bowl of soup, yogurt, or veggies and hummus at your regular meal or snack and come to the meal hungry but not ravenous!

2. Take a plate and practice portion control.  Many individuals often graze or “pick” at the foods when cooking in the kitchen or standing by the buffet or appetizer table.  By the end of the event (or before the meal even begins), you’re stuffed and wonder why. Sit down and have a snack if you’re hungry when cooking. Learn to indulge intelligently at the buffet by first scanning the table to figure out which foods will be most satisfying for you.  Make a plate balanced with some protein, veggies and fruit and whole grains. For example, make 1/4 your plate protein (i.e. turkey); 1/2 your plate fruit and vegetables (i.e. green beans and cranberry salad); and 1/4 your plate whole grain carbohydrates, (i.e. stuffing).  I know, I know, I know…what about the hot dinner rolls or mashed potatoes and gravy? My recommendation is to enjoy your favorite foods while eating mindfully. When you portion your plate with moderate amounts of food, eat slowly, savor every bite, and then stop when you are comfortably full, you will feel better! Remind yourself that you can have a serving of the sweet potato casserole at the next meal or enjoy the piece of pie at your next snack.

3. Location, Location, Location. When you realize you are not hungry, step away from the food.  Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people to decrease the urge to mindlessly eat.  Take time to enjoy the folks you are celebrating the season with – participate in conversation, listen to stories, learn something new about a friend or relative.  Most important, try to relax and have fun.

4.  Drink water. This is often the most common mistake people make.  On average, women and men need 2.7 and 3.4 liters of water per day, respectively.  This does not include additional fluid needs for activity.  Also, with the hustle and bustle on the day of a party may lead to decrease fluid intake.  Thirst is often mistaken for hunger and can lead to overeating.  Try to drink small amounts of water frequently throughout the day – and at your holiday party – with added limes, lemons, or cucumbers for extra flavor.  An added benefit for some can be decreased headaches by avoiding dehydration.

5. Move your body! Take time to include moderate, enjoyable movement in your day.  Ideally 30 to 60 minutes of some cardio and strength training activity is recommended daily.  If you already have an exercise routine, try and stay with it.  You may also want to include less frenzied activity such as a yoga class or a peaceful leisure walk under the stars.  To include the family (and unplug), consider walking together after a holiday meal; ice skating at a local park; going to a good museum or the zoo instead of sitting around.

Remember: Don’t over-think healthy eating. Keep food in it’s place and you will do great!

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Holiday Eating…Unwrapped

Holiday eating...unwrappedWith Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving lurking ahead, it’s not uncommon for folks to feel some anxiety about food, eating and weight. Most people know that what you eat has a powerful effect on your ability to perform your best – at work, at home or in the gym. However, with the holidays around the corner, efforts at good nutrition often seem insurmountable with busy schedules, endless parties and tempting carb-laden goodies everywhere you look.

Too often I hear many health-conscious individuals proclaim that their strategy to maintain control (coincidentally when life feels out of control) is just “tighten up” those food rules. Vowing to steer clear of certain foods or not eat and “save up” for a special meal or event are a couple examples. Unfortunately, this strategy often backfires.

Numerous studies have concluded that being overly hunger is truly the “best spice” for increasing overall intake and cravings for foods higher in sugar, salt and fat. According to a report published in 2008 by the USDA Research Service, long stretches between meals (5 to 6 hours compared to 4 hours) and eating away from home contribute to individuals eating significantly more calories with lower diet quality.  In another study, when researchers presented healthy females with high and low calorie food pictures after a brief period of food restriction, MRIs of the reward centers in their brain indicated an increased desire for the more calorically dense foods (Siep, 2009).

To eat well and be well throughout the holidays:

1) Plan to limit the time between meals. Aim for 4 hours between meals, giving yourself permission to eat enough at each meal rather than waiting too long, or conversely, grazing throughout the day. Planning meals that include high quality fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, wholesome carbohydrates and lean sources of protein will provide essential nutrients to keep you satisfied and sustain a healthy immune system during the cold months ahead.  Eating mindfully (i.e. slowly, without distractions and savoring your food) while staying aware of your internal cues of hunger and fullness will also help regulate overall energy intake.

2) Choose nutrient-dense snacks. Pair fruits and vegetables with protein-containing foods such as nuts, cheese and yogurt to stay fueled during the most active part of your day and prevent ravenous food binges later on.  Seek out seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, and oranges that are full of flavor and vitamin C – an important vitamin and antioxidant to keep you healthy and prevent you from missing important workouts or training.

3) Limit intake of foods prepared away from home. Instead, enjoy more home-cooked meals! One thing that most nutrition experts agree on is this point: everyone needs to be cooking and preparing more wholesome foods at home. To manage busy holiday schedules, plan ahead and seek out healthful, convenient food options when eating away from home.  For example, a bowl of butternut squash soup with a hearty salad or sandwich. For grab-and-go, consider trying a couple new recipes that incorporate flavorful, wholesome ingredients. Remember, keep good food in your refrigerator and you will eat good food.

Be Well and Happy Holidays!