10 Simple Tips to Handle Holiday Feasts

A Low Carber's Guide to Navigating the Holidays

The weeks leading up to the annual autumn/winter seasonal food fest—which for most of us Americans, at least, begins with Thanksgiving and ends after New Year’s Day—is a mine field of potential dietary disaster. Or it can be without some strategic planning. So make a plan!

  1. In the week or two running up to Thanksgiving, commit yourself with an added measure of focus to following your nutritional regimen. You may even want to pare you carb intake back to a transitional level of 15 effective grams a meal or down to a corrective level of 5 to 7 effective grams or even go Zero Carb for a bit in preparation for the added food that’s sure to come.
  2. Plan, now, to limit your indulgence to the actual day of the feast; try not to let the holiday eating pattern extend from several days before to a week afterward. It’s very easy to get into the mind set of ‘oh well I already blew it’ at lunch, or today, or this week, so I might as well have (fill in the carb-rich blank).
  3. Thanksgiving feastIf you plan to undertake a lot of holiday baking, wait as long as you reasonably can to do it. Goodies that sit around are an open invitation to start the celebration early. Immediately freeze anything that can be frozen, and if possible, save the preparation of foods that can’t be frozen or sealed away out of sight to the last few days, thereby limiting your easy access to them. Try new lower-carb [and paleo] recipes for holiday goodies. You’ll find dozens of recipes for pies, cakes, cookies, and candies in the host of wonderful paleo cookbooks, such as Gather, that have flooded the shelves, . You’ll be able to enjoy them with less risk to your maintenance commitment.
  4. Consider modifying your traditional holiday meals. The meat, fish, or poultry portion of most holiday meals—the turkey at Thanksgiving, the Christmas goose or ham—doesn’t pose a problem. It’s the side dishes and the desserts that can undo you. Many carb-rich dishes can be deliciously replaced by lower-carb options. For instance, substitute butternut squash for yams, cauliflower or celery root puree for mashed potatoes, and fresh cranberry relish sweetened with a bit of stevia or xylitol for cranberry jellies and sugar-based sauces. Shaving a few (or more) carbs off every item in your holiday cornucopia can make the feast much easier on your waistline. Here are some options I pulled from the archives:  Yellow Pepper Consomme, Cauli-Cauli, Mincemeat Pie, Simple Nut Crust, Mulled Wine.
  5. bacon and eggsStart your holiday morning with a high-protein, carb-controlled breakfast—bacon and eggs, cottage cheese with a few berries, some cream cheese, a protein shake with plenty of good fat, or even a cup or two of ‘Bulletproof Coffee’—to keep your blood sugar stable and your hunger at bay. You’ll be less likely to nibble at higher-carb feast foods before dinner is served.
  6. Begin your holiday feast with a clear soup course. Filling your stomach with a cup or two of clear broth soup and waiting a few minutes before digging into the main feast will take the edge off your ravenous holiday hunger. You’ll find that you’ll be satisfied with smaller portions on your plate.
  7. fresh veggieServe plenty of fresh, raw veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, celery and carrot sticks, and green onions—to add color, fiber, variety, and crunch.
  8. Try to match the amount of food you prepare to the number of people you’re feeding, so that you will have few, if any, leftovers, particularly of foods in the higher-carb category. We know that leftovers are a part of the enjoyment of a holiday feast—who doesn’t like a turkey, dressing, and cranberry relish sandwich the next day? Try having one with Cauliflower Bread or on a low-carb tortilla. If you love to enjoy leftovers for a day or two, then make enough for that, but don’t go overboard.
  9. If you choose to keep your traditional menu and recipes, try cutting your normal portions of the dressing, potatoes, yams, rolls, and desserts in half. Enjoy the food and then wait for a full fifteen minutes after finishing these smaller portions before you consider going for seconds. You may be surprised to find that your satiety center has kicked in and you really don’t feel hungry.
  10. early morning runnersParticipate in something fun and physical; many communities have holiday fun walk/runs. Or you could just enjoy a good long walk with the whole family before (or after) dinner. You may find that a good workout before the feast makes you feel less like gorging and more conscious of healthful eating.

BONUS TIP: Consider starting new traditions. Volunteer to serve meals at a community kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and then regularly thereafter. Your heart will be nourished and your sense of the real meaning of thanksgiving and community will deepen your own celebration.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “10 Simple Tips to Handle Holiday Feasts

  1. Dear Dr. Eades,

    First, I just want to say you and your husband have made such a difference in my life and I so appreciate your dedication to low-carb health. I am a female, 52 years old, live at 9,000 (Crested Butte, Colorado) exercise regularly and since turning 50 have watched my weight climb steadily to 170 lbs. I wake nightly at 4am very hungry and have a protein/fat snack. I know a lot about low-carb eating from years of reading many of your books. I’m about to start the 30-Day Plan, but my concern is this: the first time I followed the 30-Day Plan I lost a lot of weight and was very strict for 6 weeks. Then, in the following years when I’ve tried to go back to the Plan I find that in the middle of the night I will wake up ravenous and shaky. Do you have any suggestions? I really want to get my weight under control and then just continue the low-carb lifestyle so that I don’t have to go through Boot Camp again and I know (from experience) that I can exercise all day long, but unless I drastically reduce my carbs (7-10 per meal) I won’t lose weight. Ps – My Dr. is of no help, thinks I should drink juice and eat pancakes…..crazy!!

    Response from MDE: Sorry to be a while, our schedule has been horrific until just now. The simplest reason women over 50 have for a weight struggle is hormones, hands down. Getting them checked, fully, by a physician or practitioner who understands the intricacies of balancing female hormones is sometimes critical to getting results. Some of this is covered in our book The 6-Week Cure for the Middle Aged Middle, which if you haven’t yet read might shed some light.

    There is a natural surge in insulin in the wee hours of the morning that might explain the situation you describe if it were for some reason more exaggerated and thus driving blood sugar down, which is a very strong stimulus for hunger. It might help to decrease protein intake to just at the low end of adequate (probably 3 to 4 ounces tops) at each meal, particularly on the low side in the evening. And perhaps have a mainly fat snack just at bedtime — coconut oil or raw coconut butter, for instance.

  2. Dr Eades

    I am usually strict with myself.

    I don’t eat breakfast and I miss lunch 2-4 times a week.

    So its like I intermittently fast everyday, with full day fasts 2-4 times a week.

    I am also low carb with high protein and fat.

    So when it comes to Christmas, I let myself eat whatever I like.

    This includes cookies, chocolate (always Ferrero Rocher), wine. What I do though is miss breakfast and lunch the next day.

    Throughout the festive week, I can have several days like this.

    Never increases my weight at all and it lets me let loose for a change.