The holidays are definitely here, and there’s a lot of celebrating to do – at home, with friends, at work, at church, all over the place. We, at the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group, are getting full just thinking about it all!  

For me, Chef Marshall, the holidays are a great way to reconnect with family and friends, and perhaps come up with a delicious new holiday recipe for them.  But for a lot of people, the holidays just compound the stress in their already busy lives.  Add to that all the associated traditional holiday foods, the ones loaded with all the extra sugar, bad fats (and even good fats), and excess preservatives and sodium.  People are starting to realize that these foods actually heighten stress in our bodies. They increase body pain, weaken the immune system, decrease mental clarity, and diminish our energy levels.  

These foods wouldn’t be so bad if we were only eating them during celebrations a few times a year, but these “celebration foods” are now being consumed on a regular basis.  That said, you can still enjoy holiday food traditions, but you should have a plan for how you will do it. 

For starters, consider developing your own food philosophy that lays out what types of food you will eat and those you will try to avoid and detail what you want to accomplish by eating the foods you choose. Learn to recognize “safe” zones—events and meals where you know you’ll be eating foods that support your goals – less stress, less inflammation, stronger immune system, etc.   Meals that you plan and control yourself, such as breakfast, lunch, your snacks and usually dinner, are your safe zones. For these meals, you can plan what you will eat and know that the foods you choose will contribute to your nutrition, not just to your daily calorie intake.
  
Any eating you do outside of these areas is likely an “unsafe zone,” where it’s difficult to plan so you are likely to overeat or eat the wrong foods. Holiday parties and potlucks are definitely an unsafe zone, but here are some tips you can use as part of your plan to have a great holiday season without the guilt or regret or eating foods that will work against you:
•    Focus on the people, not the food at gatherings!
•    Whenever possible, bring a safe food that fits into your plan. For example, deviled eggs are fairly low calorie, contain healthy protein and the spicy varieties with mustard are a universal hit.
•    Eye the entire buffet and choose items that look “special” and homemade. Don’t waste your calories on store-bought, pre-packaged appetizers and baked goods that contain inferior ingredients, such as hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and preservatives.
•    Choose slow carbs, whenever possible: If you want something crunchy, focus on vegetables and fruit instead of the simple carbs in crackers.
•    Take small portions to sample buffet offerings. You can always go back for more if something tastes exceptional.
•    It is okay to take small quantities of “party food”, but if you find that you can’t eat just a small amount, your plan should be to abstain entirely.