How to Eat for the Holidays

Staying Happy, Healthy and Sane Amidst the Chaos

By Holly Lowery | Photography by Mary Grace Johnson 

You’re likely reading this article during some form of holiday madness. There’s always something to be doing — shopping, wrapping, planning, socializing with out-of-towners, baking, decorating — on top of your normal responsibilities. It would be easier if you knew exactly what to eat to keep your sanity intact.

What I’m prescribing today isn’t the typical holiday nutrition advice. I’m not going to tell you to limit your dessert or wine intake or take one less helping of your favorite casserole. That may give you a sense of control when things seem like they’re spiraling, but how often has the “eat this, not that” method really made you feel satisfied? If you were left thinking about how badly you wanted to eat whatever dessert Grandma brought to Thanksgiving, you weren’t satisfied.

The trouble with the “eat this, not that” method — or any diet, quite frankly — is it works against our biological instincts. We’re wired to feel hunger, find food and feed ourselves. We’re also wired to stop when we’ve satisfied that hunger.

However, the multi-billion dollar dieting industry has convinced us we do not have the ability to trust those biological instincts. We’ve been made to believe that to be healthy, we have to work at maintaining or losing weight. The problem is there’s no research to date that’s proven dieting prolongs life or increases health in the long term. In fact, most of the long-term studies show just the opposite; dieting and weight cycling cause greater health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, muscle deterioration, metabolic damage, digestion issues and more.

So, how will you make it through the holidays without feeling weighed down by too much ham, casserole and pie? How will you make your health a priority in the new year if dieting won’t actually help?

Here’s the answer: Get back to your intuitive, instinctual relationship with food. Give yourself permission to eat the pie, to eat whatever Grandma is bringing, to eat exactly what you want. When you give yourself full permission to eat whatever it is you truly desire, the question becomes, “What is it that you really want?” You’ll probably find the answer isn’t that you want the whole pie. You just want a slice.

The key is to remove the scarcity factor. Biologically speaking, when we think food is scarce — for example, during famine, or back in our primal days when food was hunted and gathered to sustain a population — we’re wired to stock up when we do have access to it. Your body wants you to hoard food, so you can survive when the scarcity next sets in.

Even though we’ve since evolved and no longer need to spend all our time finding food, the biological mechanisms that drive us to “stock up” during times of scarcity are still intact.

So, when we grant ourselves permission, we’re letting our bodies know food is not scarce; it doesn’t have to hold onto every last calorie. With practice, our hunger hormones readjust. The desire to overeat melts away, allowing us to take on the holidays without fear of eating too much. Once our bodies know there’s going to be an adequate amount of food coming, they can turn their focus to things like improving digestive function, assimilating vitamins and minerals, regulating our hormones and metabolism, building and repairing tissues — the things that do bring us more health!

So, this holiday season, I suggest you let go of your diet. Let go of the urge to control, count and measure. Grant yourself permission to eat what you want and notice how your cravings shift. SWM

Holly Lowery is a Syracuse-based health and wellness coach. For more information, visit

Special thanks to Café at 407 in Liverpool for the photo shoot location.