Getting back to balanced meals.

NWTHS dietitianWhile the last two months were spent with loved ones enjoying their company and eating delicious food, it is now time to get back into normal routines. Many of us expect to gain some weight over the holidays from eating not-so-balanced meals and getting less physical activity than usual.

Media may suggest a new diet to follow or a juice cleanse to buy, with the promise that you will lose weight fast, but studies have shown that restrictive diets are not beneficial for your health. They often cut out main food groups that can lead to nutrient deficiencies and decreased energy levels, making the diet unsustainable. Alexandra Van der Merwe (shown here), MS, RD, LD, shares her insight on forming a healthy relationship with food by creating balanced meals, learning your fullness cues and participating in regular physical activity that is sustainable and better for your long-term health. 

Learn Your Fullness Cues

For many, holiday meals are shared with friends and family. While conversations are flowing as everyone is trying to catch up, it is very easy to overeat and it can be difficult to focus on your body’s fullness cues. Common indicators of fullness may include discomfort in your stomach after eating, a feeling of sluggishness, your hunger has resolved, and/or your food does not taste as good. In general, it takes our stomachs about 20 minutes after we are full to tell our brains that we do not need to eat anymore.

The chart below can help you be more mindful when it comes to eating, hunger and fullness.

Rating Hunger/Fullness Feeling
0 Painfully hungry. An urgent and intense hunger
1 Ravenous and irritable. Feeling anxious to eat.
2 Very hungry. Looking forward to a hearty meal or snack.
3 Hungry and ready to eat without urgency.
4 Subtly hungry, slightly empty.
5 Neutral. Neither hungry nor full.
6 Beginning to feel emerging fullness.
7 Comfortable fullness. You feel satisfied and content.
8 A little too full.
9 Feeling very full or too full. You feel uncomfortable.
10 Painkilling full and stuffed. You may feel nauseous.

Use MyPlate to Create Balanced Meals

Let’s face it, holiday meals are not balanced. Between the pasta, potatoes, bread, stuffing and sweets, holiday plates can be a lot of grains and starches. Protein (lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, etc.) options are common, but when looking at dishes, there are not as many vegetables and fruit options. While having one or two meals that are not balanced is not a huge concern, most people eat the leftovers for up to a week after the holiday, which could cause you to form the habit of eating unbalanced food portions more often. 

An easy way to try and re-balance your meals is having frozen or canned vegetables on hand if you are still working through leftovers. It can help you shift the quantity of the food groups to make your meal more balanced, yet still enjoyable. A convenient way to incorporate fruit into your diet is using it as a snack. Apples, oranges, pears, grapefruit and clementines are all in season during the winter and require minimal prep time! Fruit can also be used as dessert to help curb those sugar cravings. Try this quick and simple winter fruit salad that will leave the whole family satisfied.


When it comes to the holiday season, the daily routine is usually thrown off. Children are off from school, relatives are visiting, and/or you may be taking some time off from work. Without a consistent schedule, it is easy to step away from your physical activity routine or not even attempt to start one.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (walking, dancing, biking, etc.) five times a week. If 30 minutes does not work with your schedule, try splitting it up and doing a simple walk around the block in morning and afternoon. Another way to increase physical activity is to find a buddy to work out with or challenge a friend through a fitness app! While physical activity can boost your metabolism, it can also help with the digestion of food.

Focusing on your fullness cues, creating balanced meals and establishing a healthy physical activity routine are key healthy habits to form to get you back on track for the new year. Whether your goal is weight loss, increase in overall health, or to not get a stomachache from overeating, these three ideas can help you feel like the best version of yourself and can be carried through the next holiday season.