The holiday season is here, which means fun-filled festivities, time with family and friends, and food—lots of food! While making memories should be top of mind, it’s also important to keep an eye on your nutrition this time of year, especially if you are struggling with back, knee, or joint pain.
Certain inflammatory foods may worsen your pain, and gaining even two to three extra pounds can feel like a dozen new pounds of pressure on your knees. But with a few smart strategies, you can have your holiday cake and feel great, too! Try these nutritionist-approved tips to help you enjoy yourself and stay healthy this holiday season:
1. Don’t skip meals.
Skipping meals or “saving” calories for a big holiday party or feast can backfire and result in overeating. It is especially important to eat breakfast, as research shows that skipping this morning meal leads to higher calorie consumption throughout the day (Yamamoto, 2021). Be sure to include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in each meal. These fiber-rich foods contain fewer calories and help you feel full for longer.
2. Keep moving.
Instead of the same 30-minute jog or routine gym session, branch out and find new ways to move that sound fun to you. Try a new workout class or online video, find an indoor climbing or swimming facility, or organize a family activity like skating, a hike, or even a scavenger hunt. Taking a walk after dinner is a great way to catch up with family members while burning calories.
3. Pick a strategy to avoid overeating—and use it!
There are several strategies to help avoid overeating. Using a smaller plate, for instance, encourages smaller portions. Start by filling your plate with vegetables and fresh salad before entrees and dessert. Vegetables contain insoluble fiber, which can help reduce hunger (Tapsell, 2014). A balanced snack before a meal will also help you moderate your hunger and the number of calories you consume. Try two tablespoons of almond butter spread atop of a slice of whole-grain bread, or one cup of plain Greek yogurt topped with one-half cup of berries.
4. Slash unwanted calories with easy swaps and substitutions.
Some traditional holiday foods and beverages contain excess calories, sodium, and saturated fat (which can increase inflammation). Here are some easy swaps to help you avoid or limit these foods:
- Pick up a pumpkin pie instead of pecan and you’ll slash calories by at least a third.
- Reach for sparkling water instead of mixed drinks to avoid excess calories from alcohol.
- Choose turkey or fish instead of red meat. These anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy proteins contain less saturated fat and calories than red meat.
- Prepare roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper instead of the classic butter- and sugar-laden sweet potato casserole.
5. Get plenty of rest.
Try not to sacrifice sleep to keep up with your holiday RSVPs. Sleep loss can lead to fluctuations in both blood sugar and satiety hormones (ghrelin and leptin), all of which can lead to overeating higher-fat and higher-sugar foods. Holiday stress can impact your quality sleep as well. Develop a sleep strategy ahead of the game. Be mindful to reduce stress levels before bedtime and carve out enough time to get somewhere between seven to nine hours of rest per night, as often as possible, to guard against mindless eating (Chaput, 2012).
Focus on what matters most
Most of all, use this time of year to connect with the people you care about. When you are able to focus on the fun and those you love, it’s easier to focus less on the food.
Our nutritionists, doctors, and expert Care Teams are here to help you feel your best this holiday season and any time of year. If you are struggling with back, neck, knee, or joint pain, schedule a visit to find out how we personalize care to support your goals.