Healthy Comfort Foods

Healthy Comfort Foods
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The holidays are approaching fast, and if you’re like us you may be feeling the pressure already.

We all want that “instagram moment” over the holidays, whether it be the food, the decorations, or simply making sure everyone is gathered in one place and on time for it all to happen. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes it can feel like it’s all on your shoulders. Often, we end up sacrificing self-care and our own healthy diet by giving into cravings… but do we really need to? Let’s consider a few ways to help you stay healthy and beat those holiday cravings this holiday season!  

Why Do We Crave Certain Foods?

First thing’s first: As soon as we feel overwhelmed, why do we crave those high-sugar, fat, and salt foods?! The quick and easy answer is evolution. Foods high in sugar, fat, and salt all tend to be high calorie foods. These foods meant survival way back in the day, when meals were few and far between, so when we put ourselves under stress, our natural instinct is to go for these calorie-dense foods to store up energy for the stressful situation our bodies can sense. This instinct does not help us too much in our modern world, though, where our stressors tend to be more mental than physical and options for processed, refined, high sugar and high fat foods are abundant.

Another factor in cravings is that we simply run down our resilience.

Resilience or “willpower,” is an exhaustible resource, meaning that as we push ourselves to do more and more things, it gets used up. Think about it; you have new tasks and chores around the holidays, on top of the things you normally do. It takes a lot of extra effort to get it all done, and at the end of the day you are more exhausted than usual, and those comfort foods look all the more tempting and are literally extremely hard to resist.

These temptations can be avoided and manageable, even when all of your resilience seems burned up! The key is balancing in your life by prioritizing and preserving time for self-care, and ensuring there are plenty of healthy comfort food options around.

Self-Care is Key to Ward Off Cravings

It probably comes as no surprise that the more balanced your life is with self-care necessities like sleep, exercise, and nutrition, the less cravings you will experience. We all know this, yet somehow these daily rituals are the first to go when we’re stressed and pressed for time.  

  • Sleep – No screens for at least 1 hour before bed! This means no phone, no TV, games, etc. Try reading a book, drinking some tea, knitting, or whatever works for you. If these things sound boring to you… remember the objective here is to sleep!
  • Exercise – This can be a tough one to fit in when your free time is suddenly cut down. If you’re pressed for time, try a quick at-home HIIT video, yoga series or a bodyweight exercise routine that you can do in those extra 10 minutes. If you have the time, try adding your workout into your schedule, or signing up for a class. The commitment of scheduling can help you stick to your plan.
  • Vitamin D – Lower levels of vitamin D could be another, more sneaky, factor draining you of energy. As we are all too aware, there is less sun during the winter months, and its sunlight is not as direct. A large portion of our vitamin D comes from sunlight, so when this goes away, levels of vitamin D in the body can drop, and we feel more tired and fatigued. During this holiday season, ask your doctor if you should consider starting a vitamin D supplement, or increase your fish and fortified dairy (or dairy alternative) consumption.

Got Cravings Anyway? No Problem.

We can’t all be perfectly in balance at all times, so what do we do when we’re not? We fill our house with healthy comfort food alternatives to eat when those cravings hit. We want our comfort foods to be high in protein, carotenoids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds to help us stay strong through the holidays and keep our immune systems supported in the cold weather. We also want to focus on getting our B-vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and selenium to keep our energy high and metabolism, healing potential, skin and immune health running smoothly.

Here are recipes packed with these important nutrients!

Spicy Vegetarian Slow-Cooker Chili

Pumpkin Spiced Gluten-Free Waffles

Spicy Sweet Potato Quinoa

Cashew “Cheese” Stuffed Mushrooms

Chocolate Almond Power Bites

Dairy-Free Cashew “Cheese” Dip

These recipes are healthy swaps to common breakfasts, dinners, appetizers, and snacks that can be easily worked in to your busy schedule.

Try out our tips and recipes for a healthy winter this holiday season, and let us know what you like to do for self-care, balance and comfort foods in the comments below!  

Looking for the best gift of the season

Immerse yourself in a day of self-care, right here at the Gardens of Elm Bank in Wellesley, just outside of Boston.  No expensive travel or spa required to pamper and nurture!  Experience yoga, delicious and nourishing nutrition, essential oils and aromatherapy, hormone and sleep pro tips, mood and develop your food cravings or “emotional eating,” skill set, socialize, shop and enjoy the day with women in our community. Learn more at Wellesley Wellness Retreat 

 

Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN is a Board-Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and senior clinical nutritionist for Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Cancer Care, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston. Stacy created and serves as project manager and lead writer for Nutrition Services content on the award-winning, Dana-Farber website and affiliated Nutrition app. Her app and cancer video series have been featured in popular press and industry magazines. Stacy is regularly featured in TV, radio, podcasts, documentary films and print media.

Stacy teaches nutrition at Simmons College. She co-founded her private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC and works as a nutrition consultant and advisor for numerous businesses and non-profit organizations in the health, wellness, food and technology spaces.  She is former Chief Wellness Officer and currently sits as an Advisor for AVA, a tech-nutrition startup leveraging artificial intelligence for meal tracking, planning & expert nutrition coaching. She is featured in Lighter, the plant-based nutrition-tech tool for meal planning.

Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor. Stacy received a B.S. in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her Dietetic Internship at Massachusetts General Hospital and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She enjoys yoga, running, cooking and caring for her husband, sons and dogs.