The holidays can be a tricky time.

On one hand, they only come around once a year so what’s a little indulgence? But on the other, it can be a slippery slope and before you know it you’re not just indulging at the Christmas or Hanukah dinner table, but when a box of green and red sprinkled Tim Hortens doughnuts shows up in the office kitchen.

Then when the giant Toblerone you got from your Secret Santa becomes your hangover breakfast.

Also when you grab a super-sized fast food combo at the mall.

Oh, and when you’re curled up on the couch for a Christmas movie marathon and an entire bag of Reese’s Bells and a hot buttered rum(s) becomes dinner.

While I never advocate restricting and I certainly encourage my clients to eat, drink and be merry during the holiday season, there’s a big difference between eating too much at a holiday party and diving head-first into a six-week-long sugar and wine binge.

Trust me, I know.

It wasn’t that long ago when my holiday traditions included being hung-over, alternating constipation and diarrhea, extreme mood swings and itchy, painful eczema outbreaks – all side-effects of eating way too much sugar and drinking too much. By New Year’s I would feel sick, exhausted and even a little depressed instead of all warm and fuzzy.

Now I enjoy the holidays and alllll the delicious treats that come with it, but without feeling gross. Here are my tips for surviving the holidays without effing up your (physical and/or mental) health:

Self-Care vs. Self-Control

Eating whole, unprocessed foods that nourish your body is an act of self-care and self-compassion, not self-control. Treat your body and yourself with the same love and respect that you would a friend or family member. That means that if you know that chasing an entire plate of sugar cookies with three mugs of rum and eggnog is going to make you feel like shit, then maybe give it a pass? I recommend this episode of the Food Psych podcast for more on this concept.

Let Go of Guilt and Shame

And if you do over do it, don’t get trapped in the guilt and shame spiral. You ate too much, you don’t feel that great, now let it go. There are no “good” or “bad” foods, only foods that are more or less nutritous, and your food choices are not a reflection of who you are as a person. You are amazing regardless of what you ate for breakfast.

You can’t change what you ate last night or this morning, but you can make a different choice at your next meal. Don’t let one overindulgence become an excuse to eat junk for the rest of the day/week/month/year.

Practice Mindful Eating

How you eat can matter almost as much as what you eat. Who are you eating with? Where are you eating? Why are you eating – because you’re hungry or because family situations stress you out?

Being mindful about when, why, where and how we are eating can make a difference into what and how much that we eat. Before you eat check-in with yourself and ask yourself if it’s real hunger or something else that you’re seeking.

As much as possible avoid grazing, eating standing up or on the run. Eat your meals and snacks from a real plate, at a real table, without distractions, chewing each bite 40-50 times until it’s near-liquid.

Move Your Body

It can be tempting to cancel exercise in favour of social plans at this time of year, but you might want to think twice about skipping a workout even when your calendar is jam-packed.

Not because exercising will undo any ill effects of eating too much (it won’t) – but because it will boost your mood and your self-esteem. Two important things all year round, yes, but will make all the difference when it comes putting the concepts above into practice.

Become a Picky Eater

When you do indulge, be picky about what you choose.

Those “Christmas doughnuts” that someone picked up at the drive-thru on their way into the office? Yeah, they’re the same doughnuts that you can get every other day of the year only with red and green sprinkles. So maybe give them a pass in favour of the caramel shortbread your sister-in-law only makes for Christmas Eve and savour every last bite. WORTH IT.

Eat a Proper Breakfast 

Eating a proper breakfast that includes protein, good carbs and healthy fat will set you up with balanced blood sugar and should last you through lunch. It also sets you up with good intentions for the day ahead and doesn’t extend any overindulgence you may have had the night before. Try this Superfood Scramble or a smoothie with a scoop of plant-based protein powder. And if you’re still feeling the night before, a good green juice is always a great way to hit the reset button.

The holidays are a special time of year and definitely a cause for celebration. Bringing mindfulness into your holiday celebrations means that you can eat, drink and still feel merry — without it turning into a binge or experiencing any of the side effects of a month-long sugar and wine coma. Let me know if you try any of these tips this month!

Happy Holidays!