'TIS THE SEASON OF FOOD!: HOW TO STAY HEALTHY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

When talking about finding balance during a season of overindulgence, I feel I can really speak from experience as this balancing act has now become my life! I used to have the same issues everyone else has during the holidays, countless parties and dinners to go to and plan, and you can clearly see all the naughty goodies quickly piling up on you. Then January would come, and you vowed to never overdo it again! Sound familiar? Like many other people I felt that Christmas and Thanksgiving were practically a green light/all you can eat permission slip that allowed you to eat whatever your heart desired and pay the piper later. This year, everything changed.

Why? Because we created this little site called Brownble and it has been growing and growing, and we've made this awesome commitment to keep delicious content coming your way. This means in one week I might be recipe testing a dessert that will be filmed in 1 month's time, and two days later we'll be filming a pie, pasta dish and fluffy pancakes. A lot goes into filming our videos so we do a ton of work in a short period of time, and that means one thing:  A TON OF LEFTOVERS! Many are as healthy as can be, and some are totally decadent. So my initial deal of "naughty now", "nice later" had to move over and make room for something else, a new way of finding balance every day of the year, which can definitely apply to anyone looking to stay healthy during the Holiday season. Today I want to share my top tips for finding balance in a season of overindulgence, and of course it will include eating a Christmas cookie or two!

Tip #1: Eat clean

By eating clean I'm referring to centering your diet around the cleanest, purest forms of nutrition: plants. Indulge in plenty of fruit, vegetables (both raw and cooked), whole grains, plant-based proteins including a ton of legumes, nuts, seeds, and if you're just making initial steps into veganism or a more plant-based diet, start by limiting or eliminating dairy. You have no idea what a huge difference that will make in the way you feel.

I  also find that the cleaner I eat, the cleaner I eat! Meaning, eating clean and healthy makes me feel so good I feel like doing it again and again. However, if I eat nothing but healthy salads for a week, I find that I start craving comfort, so indulging is also important when trying to stay on track. It's the yin and the yang of it! 

Don't worry, it's the holidays, so you won't have trouble finding moments for indulgence (especially if you have a sweet tooth like me!). This is why I always recommend eating as clean as you can on days in which you know you'll be eating at home, or activities are quiet and normal. That way you can afford to splurge a bit when the special occasions arrive.

Eating frequently has also improved my choices tremendously! I eat 3 meals plus 2 snacks every day which might seem like a lot, but it has been the best way to avoid overeating and limit the huge portions I once used to eat. For you it might be different however, so experiment and find what works for you. Just remember to keep it as clean and whole foods-based as possible with a ton of fruits and veggies coloring up your plate. Especially the green kind.

Tip #2: Start the day by moving

There's no way around it folks! We need to move our bodies! They are designed for movement and we really do feel our best when we've been active, especially if you start the day with whatever exercise you enjoy. My life completely changed the minute I started incorporating daily morning exercise into my routine. Unless I'm sick, come rain or shine, you will see me getting up early every morning, walking the dogs and then heading out (or in) for my daily workout. Everything, from my energy levels, to my cravings, to the way I emotionally start my day completely changes depending on whether or not I started the day by moving.

Find a type of exercise you love. I am often asked "what is the best and most effective type of exercise you can do?" to which I ALWAYS answer "the type that makes you do it every day". A year of daily walking is much better than 5 days a year in which you went out for a run and hated it so much you never did it again. For me, my daily practices include running, weight lifting, HIIT training and yoga. Not all on the same day of course! I love to mix it up, but I do something every single day.

 

Tip #3: Crowd out the naughty

For me there is no better nutritional concept that that of "crowding out". This means that if you're focusing on the foods that are good for you and that you should be consuming every day, you avoid thinking about what you "can't" have. Suddenly the thought of endless rows of brownies that are strictly forbidden (which only brings them to mind!), are substituted by getting in your greens, your fruits, your legumes for the day. You begin your day with an abundance mentality rather than one of scarcity. You start filling your plate with goodness and by the time that 4 o'clock sugar craving hits, you are more likely to consume less, since you've filled up your lunch plate with food that nourishes you. 

Tip #4: Drink up!

Nope! I'm sorry to tell you that I'm not going to talk about martinis! Thirst is often mistaken by hunger, and studies show most people finish their days severely dehydrated! We need to start drinking more water. This will keep our bodies, our metabolism and our energy levels running as they should be, and our skin will thank us too! Need some motivation to start drinking more water? Add some berries, lemon, mint, cucumber slices, watermelon or ginger to your water. 

Another little trick I love when I know I've had a balanced meal but my brain is childishly asking for cookies, is to have a cup of warm herbal tea at night. It will feel soothing, it will relax you and if you add a bit of natural sweetener like maple syrup or agave, it will also feel like a total treat to end the day.

Ok, ok... what about those holiday cocktails? You can make spritzers by mixing your drink of choice with some club soda, or sparkling water, it will cut the naughty factor in half and that fizz will give you that feeling of celebration!

 

Tip #5: Plan, plan, plan!

Become the world's expert in meal planning, and include your social engagements and treats. We'll be writing an entire post on meal planning really soon, but nothing has helped me more with eating healthily than planning out my meals. This way I know what naughty treats or social engagements are coming up and I really focus on eating as clean as possible around these dates. It really is all about balance. We'll be sharing different methods on planning your meals really soon!

Tip #6: Make your favorites at home

You would be surprised to learn how much fat, sugar and salt is in most pre-packaged, store-bought or restaurant meals. This is new to me since for my recipe creation and testing I always start off by studying the most traditional way of cooking a dish, often to be shocked by the amount of fat and calories that come with traditional methods of cooking them.

If you're already eating a vegan diet or leaning into one, you already have a huge advantage health-wise by eating plant-based versions of these dishes, but you'll kick it up a notch by starting to cook more at home. This is why we created My Brownble! We want you to get back in the kitchen but do so in a fun, creative and new way. 

Tip #7: Plan a healthy shindig and bring healthy dishes to your holiday gatherings

This is one I still struggle with. Whenever I have friends over, I feel the need to impress them as much as possible with the most decadent treats! Who said gatherings couldn't include delicious healthy food too?! Try planning a dinner party in which you make simple yet flavorful dishes made out of whole plant foods. The table is guaranteed to look beautiful with all those colors and textures, and most people will thank you for providing one meal that really makes you feel good in the midst of so many naughty goodies this time of year.

Salads with delicious varied toppings, stuffed mushrooms topped with guacamole, quinoa pilafs with dried berries and nuts, healthy dips like hummus, mujamara or bean dips with crudités, healthy bean tacos with salsa, veggie fajitas, fruit salads with a bit of yogurt and nuts on top. There are many ways to make healthy food fun and delicious.

Tip #8: Stop punishing yourself

There is no such thing as maintaining a perfect, spotless, healthy diet 100% of the time. In fact, I find that falling off the healthy wagon is key to getting back on it with joy. Have you ever had a week of feeling like you ate the planet? Feeling sluggish and lazy and like your body isn't responding as it should be? In my case, a week of really good eating follows one of overindulgence. The opposite is also true, if I'm too strict with eating perfectly healthy, all I can think of is bread, potato chips, pizza and beer! Focus on eating healthy foods that nourish you, but don't punish yourself for eating that second slice of Christmas pudding. This is a part of life, and the less importance you give it with feeling those guilt pangs, the faster you'll simply go back to eating your usual healthy meals.

Tip #9: Find healthy inspiration

Find sources of inspiration that include recipes that are delicious, but also good for you. In a sense, this is one thing that a vegan diet is great at providing. Eating a veggie burger made out of beans and rice will be much better for you than the meat-based alternative. Find healthy recipes of your favorite dishes, and keep a list of ideas handy for when you feel you can't think of anything to cook tonight.

I keep a list of my favorite super healthy dishes that are also scrumptious, and I try to glance over the list before reaching for the takeout drawer. I always get inspired. Other ways of doing this is by creating a Pinterest board (you can follow us on Pinterest here to get some ideas!), keeping a folder on your phone or computer with healthy recipes or photos, or finding new recipes online and keeping a handy dandy recipe binder.

Tip #10: Forget about perfection, there is no such thing

There is no such thing as perfect. If you're like me, you will eat really healthy most days, fall off the wagon a bit on some days, and really overdo it on occasion and then get back on track. This is just a part of life. I have fought tooth and nail to find "THE perfect system or plan", only to realize we're human, and it's a long and winding road, not a straight one. Try using some of the tips we've talked about today, and keep in mind that healthy eating is a journey, not a destination after which you will be "cured from temptation", no matter how hard the diet industry tries to convince us of this idea.

My mother and I used to have what we called "the midnight feast", a monthly date in which we would go to bed early and then get up again at midnight, put on a movie and eat a ton of naughty stuff in front of the TV. It wasn't something anyone would consider healthy, but it's where many family memories were created. Carlos and I still do them on occasion in her memory, and we include lots of healthy goodies and some naughty ones too, and being guilt-free is always a pre-requisite for getting the party started.

What is your biggest struggle with food around the holidays? We'd love to read your stories in the comment section below!