Post-Holiday Forgiveness: Eat Healthy Starting…Now

How to move on from the holiday excess and truly feed yourself.

If, like many, you overindulged during the holidays, you might be feeling tempted to subsist on raw carrots, lettuce, and water for a few weeks – but this approach is all wrong. It’s not what your body needs right now and it will leave you starving, in more ways than one.

First Step – Forgive yourself and stop feeling guilty so you can move on. If you need help, visit the very cool Choose Love Project and view videos of women talking about their struggles with body image. Now, go take a nice brisk walk or head to a yoga class. Do whatever it is that makes you feel balanced. Don’t punish yourself for enjoying the holidays by overdoing it at the gym.

Feeling better? Now, let’s get sensible.
Whether you’re a vegan, a vegetarian, or an omnivore, you can follow the same set of principles for healthy winter eating. Make sure everything you eat is seasonal, prioritizing deeply colored foods; use long, slow cooking techniques to concentrate flavor (and satisfaction), adding plenty of warming spices; make sure everything you eat is whole and unprocessed; foster healthy digestion by adding fermented foods to your diet; and don’t be afraid of fat in moderation. Just make sure it’s healthy, high quality fat.

Seasonal and Colorful

If you want to know what’s in season, take a stroll through a farmers market. If you don’t have year-round markets in your area, think roots, and dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli, winter squashes, citrus, and the last of fall’s pears and apples.

Warming

Long, slow cooking, high heat roasting, and braising are the most satisfying cooking styles for winter, lending themselves well to fibrous vegetables and greens, as well as beans, whole grains, and certain cuts of meat – all are foods that are good to eat right now. Think slow simmered meat and/or vegetable stews, chili, roasted root vegetables and squash, bean dishes, chewy grains, and braised greens. Add plenty of warming spices like ginger, cumin, pepper, and cinnamon to your cooking.

Whole

Stay away from processed and packaged foods. Shop the perimeter of the store for fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, and high quality, minimally processed diary products. Shop the bulk bins or grocery shelves for beans, lentils, and whole grains. Try cutting out sugar in favor of less processed sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and molasses. If eating meats and seafood, whole versions are more economical and tasty. Try baking, steaming, or broiling a whole fish, such as trout or bass, enjoy omega-3 rich sardines, or roast a whole chicken.

High Quality Healthy Fats

Don’t be afraid of fat as it warms, promotes satiety, and carries flavor. Just make sure it’s a healthy fat enjoyed in moderation. Think olive oil, organic butter from pasture raised animals, good quality lard that you’ve rendered yourself from a humanely-raised animal, coconut oil, and organic peanut oil.

Digestible

Promote good digestion and that feeling of lightness you’re seeking by eating reasonable portions more often, and making sure you’re including unprocessed (and unsweetened) yogurt, kefir, and aged raw cheeses, like parmesan in your diet. Try pairing fermented pickles or sauerkraut with fatty or rich foods, stir a little miso into dressings or marinades, or drink kombucha between meals.

A few recipes to try that illustrate the principles above:

Lentil Soup with Spinach and Lemon

Butternut Squash and Coconut Curry

Celery Root Soup with Bacon and Honey

Warm Farro Salad with Roasted Squash, Oyster Mushrooms, and Chard

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Chickpea Hotpot

Simple Farro and Bean Stew

Chicken and Lentil Cholent

Whole Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions

If you sometimes crave a little something sweet before bedtime, instead of grabbing a cookie or diving into the ice cream, try a cup of warm milk with honey and vanilla. It is mighty satisfying and will help you sleep.

For a more in-depth look at these principles and a Chinese Medicine perspective on what to eat for best health and most enjoyment (as well as delicious recipes) visit Gastronicity, and look for the author’s upcoming book, Real Food All Year, from Harbinger Press, due out in April 2012.

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Images: Vanessa Barrington

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