Holiday Eating: Tips to Eat Healthy and Feel Good
Listen to the podcast to hear Kelly discuss:
how people who want to eat healthy can have fun and not feel left out or hungry
why the holidays are a great time for creative mocktails
how some traditional holiday dishes can be modified to be a bit healthier
what she’s making for her Thanksgiving dinner
Kelly Hogan received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Northeastern University and her nutrition education, training, and master’s degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. As the nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, Kelly incorporates a holistic approach, focusing not only on nutrition, but overall wellness including physical activity, stress management, and sleep. Before the Dubin Breast Center, Kelly worked with the general surgery and oncology inpatient populations at Mount Sinai.
— Last updated on May 3, 2022, 3:03 PM
Jamie DePolo: Hello, everyone. I’m Jamie DePolo, senior editor at Breastcancer.org. Welcome to our podcast. Our guest today is Kelly Hogan. She received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and her nutrition education, training, and master’s degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. As the nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai, Kelly incorporates a holistic approach focusing not only on nutrition but overall wellness including physical activity, stress management, and sleep. Before the Dubin Breast Center, Kelly worked with the general surgery and oncology inpatient populations at Mount Sinai Hospital. Kelly, welcome to the podcast.
Kelly Hogan: Hi, thank you so much for having me, Jamie.
Jamie DePolo: Today, we are going to talk about healthy eating during the holidays, also eating during the holidays for people who happen to be in breast cancer treatment. So, the holidays almost always bring gatherings and receptions, lots of people getting together and almost always — at least for the ones that I’ve been to — the centerpiece of these gatherings are sugary carbohydrates, so chocolate, cookies, everything. And if people are in treatment or they’re just trying to eat healthy, how do they have fun and not feel left out when everyone else is seemingly eating 5,000 cookies?
Kelly Hogan: That’s such a good question, and my answer lies in first of all, why are we putting these sugary carbohydrates on this pedestal, right? If we look at them as these bad or forbidden foods, we’re just going to want them more. So I think my first piece of advice is to say, have some sugary carbohydrates. They’re okay, they’re not going to hurt you, and as part of a generally healthy plant-based diet, which I do advocate for, there’s always room for cookies or treats or anything that you want in that area.
Jamie DePolo: Ok, so that sounds good. We’re not putting sugary carbs on a pedestal. We’ll have them along with a healthy diet. But what happens if you’re going someplace and maybe you don’t have a chance to eat ahead of time, and that’s all there is? Is that still ok?
Kelly Hogan: I mean, you don’t ever want to put yourself in a situation where you’re really, really hungry and there are limited options for food. I think especially if there are sugary carbohydrates or refined carbohydrates available, and they’re the only thing available, if we’re starving, that’s what the body wants anyway so it’s really easy to overeat if you get yourself in that situation. But I think it’s also really possible to kind of think ahead and plan a little bit and always have some kind of snack before you head to a party just so you arrive feeling comfortable and not just completely starving and making a beeline for all the snacks. Then you can enjoy what you really want in a little bit more of a controlled mindset.
Jamie DePolo: I know there are certain foods that people who are in active breast cancer treatment should avoid — I know one of them is grapefruit, that seems to interact with a lot of chemotherapy and targeted therapy medicines — but are there any what I would call holiday foods, foods that tend to be popular during the holidays, that people who are in treatment should avoid?
Kelly Hogan: Aside from the usual no raw or undercooked fish or meats, I think something else to think about if you’re going to a holiday buffet or a holiday party where foods are being left out for a long time, you want to be careful because that increases the risk of bacterial contamination for any food, really. So I would just think ahead in terms of, how are these foods being refrigerated, do they need refrigeration, and maybe be careful and avoid certain foods that have a higher likelihood of going bad. That could be any kind of cheese or meat, even vegetable platters and stuff like that. You also have to think about people sneezing on them or touching them and stuff. For you and I, our bodies can handle that, but if you’re in active treatment, you’re just at a higher risk to get sick from something like that.
Jamie DePolo: Kind of the flip side to that, are there any holiday foods that are especially nourishing or anything you would recommend for people who are on treatment?
Kelly Hogan: I think we can’t totally forget about or not recognize the fact that food is emotional, and we have certain emotions surrounding various foods, and during the holidays I think that’s even more prevalent. So I think foods that could be nourishing could be foods that make you feel happy and positive and comforted during the holidays. Often times those are special holiday dishes that maybe you don’t really eat other times of the year, so I would really say if you’re looking forward to special meals or special dishes, enjoy those because those are nourishing not just for the body but for the mind and the soul, and that’s important, too.
Jamie DePolo: My next question is something that I personally have a big problem with, and that’s being at a reception or some sort of party, and I start talking and I also find myself just eating and drinking mindlessly because I’m talking and I’m not paying attention to anything that I’m putting in my mouth. So are there any tricks, other than sort of pinching yourself every now and then to sort of say, “Hey, what’s in your mouth right this second, and should you be eating that eighth slice of cheese as you stand here and shove it in?”
Kelly Hogan: I mean, it can be really hard to keep track, especially if it’s a snack situation with a lot of appetizers or bite-sized foods. Then you’re chatting and talking. I think focusing on the company around you and enjoying conversations is really important. There’s nothing wrong with snacking while you’re doing that. I think it could be a good idea to really check in with yourself every 10 minutes or 15 minutes and really ask yourself certain questions, like, “How is my body feeling? Am I feeling hungry? Am I feeling comfortable?” And if you’re feeling comfortable, I think that’s one way you can focus a little bit more on the conversation and the mingling and not so much the snacking. And if you’re feeling hungry, then ask other questions to yourself — like, “Ok, what does my body want right now? Is that a little snack, is it a drink, am I thirsty?” So I think just going about things a little bit more slowly and just taking a few extra steps to be mindful can be helpful.
Jamie DePolo: We know that alcohol increases the risk of first-time breast cancer as well as recurrence. Alcohol also seems to be a staple at a lot of holiday gatherings. Sometimes people feel strange if they’re at a big party and they’re not drinking because people seem to notice. Are there any strategies so people can be comfortable and be festive have a great time and just be comfortable with not drinking?
Kelly Hogan: I think the holidays are a really good time for some fancy mocktails. I think if you’re holding a drink, that in itself maybe makes you feel a little bit more comfortable. Whether or not it has alcohol in it doesn’t really matter so much. So not just having water and feeling kind of bored with that, but maybe having a little bit of cranberry juice with seltzer and lime, or crushing up some mint and berries in seltzer. Those are just very basic ideas. I think we can get more creative too. Stuff like that can help you have a little flavor in what you’re drinking and maybe feel a little bit more included, but without actually drinking the alcohol.
Jamie DePolo: Here’s a question for you, because this has happened to me a couple times when I’ve asked for seltzer or something else, and the person — whether I’m out and it’s an official server or if it’s at someone’s house — they don’t give me a pretty glass. I don’t get a wine glass, I get a plastic cup, so it’s clearly obvious that I have something different. Is there language someone can use to tell the person, “Hey, I want a pretty glass, too,” without sounding whiney?
Kelly Hogan: That’s exactly it: “Can I have X drink in a wine glass?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have your drink in a wine glass. So I think just asking for it can help you get over that little difference.
Jamie DePolo: So, we talked a little bit about eating ahead of time if you’re invited to a party and you can plan. But what happens if you get invited to a holiday dinner — a Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas dinner, a Seder dinner, all the dinners that come up — and you’re not quite sure what the host is going to be serving? Can you eat healthy and not be rude? I’m thinking especially of someone who is in treatment who may have severe restrictions. Can you bring your own food and not be rude? Do you have any advice for folks in those situations?
Kelly Hogan: I have two answers to this. I think first, if you’re in treatment and there’s only a short list of foods that you can tolerate that sound good to you, I think communicating with the host ahead of time if you’re comfortable doing that, about certain foods that you can’t tolerate, I think it’s a great idea just so that you’re comfortable going into that situation. So the host knows as well, so either they can help you prepare ahead of time or they won’t be thrown if you bring a few things that you know you’ll be able to tolerate that won’t be at the dinner.
The second part of my answer is if you are out of treatment and you’re focusing a lot on foods being unhealthy, take a step back and talk about what is healthy. I think what is healthy is being able to go to a holiday dinner and enjoy what is served for you, whatever that may be, and honor your hunger and your fullness cues. I think so often we forget about that and think a little bit too much about these foods are bad or good. So I think just going in and taking your time with the food and enjoying it. Again, if it’s food that you’re not used to eating that you only eat a couple of times a year during the holidays, we really do want to enjoy it. I think most holiday dinners are pretty diverse. You can get some vegetables in with whatever other delicious foods that are available. There’s always a balance, but I think going in thinking all of these foods are on an equal playing field, there’s no good-bad, black-white, you know, everything is kind of a little bit more gray, I think that helps set you up for having a more comfortable meal and not having unnecessary guilt afterwards.
Jamie DePolo: I don’t know if anybody ever asked you this, but is it possible to take some real traditional holiday foods and make them healthier? I don’t necessarily mean fewer calories, but I’m thinking less refined sugar, maybe some more whole foods in there.
Kelly Hogan: You know, I think it’s always possible based on what you like and what recipes you’re used to using. I think there are often substitutes for things that are usually fried, and maybe we can steam them or grill them or roast them. I think roasting vegetables is a great way to bring flavor out that doesn’t necessarily have too too much frying involved. I think things like olive oil are great for roasting vegetables, and we shouldn’t be afraid of those kinds of fats. I think we can always substitute whole wheat flour for white flour if we want to get a little bit more fiber into a baked good or a bread or something like that. So little tweaks here and there I think are always possible, and I think the vastness of the internet that is today, it’s pretty easy to find good substitutes or healthy tweaks on things that we typically like.
Jamie DePolo: I have two final questions for you. One, do you know what’s going to be on your holiday meal menu? Are you hosting a meal or making things to bring to a meal?
Kelly Hogan: Yes, that’s such a good question. I am hosting a small Thanksgiving. We’ll kind of do a traditional turkey, and then there’s this kale salad that I really like from the New York Times that has apple and cheddar and almonds in it, which is a really nice side dish. And then we’ll do mashed sweet potatoes with all of the amount of butter the recipe calls for because it’s delicious that way. And probably like a roasted brussel sprouts or roasted broccoli, and then some corn bread, which is always good. I think I use a Martha Stewart recipe for the corn bread. So I think we’re good. That’s all I can think of right now.
Jamie DePolo: Oh, that sounds delicious! So to wrap up, if you had, say, two or three pieces of advice for somebody who is maybe in treatment or just finished treatment, maybe is a little nervous about facing his or her first holiday season, […] what are a few things you might tell them to think about as they go into it to put them on an even keel?
Kelly Hogan: I would say take some deep breaths and relax. Even if you, once you get to your holiday meal, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just going into a bathroom or a spare bedroom just to gather yourself, I think, can be really important, especially if people are asking you a lot of questions about your treatment or giving you a lot of attention that is overwhelming. I think it can be helpful just to take some time for yourself and breathe a little bit. Like I said before, when it comes to the actual meal and eating the foods, I think kind of getting yourself out of a black-and-white mindset and looking at all of these food choices in a neutral gray area can be really helpful and really help you enjoy the foods that you like without feeling like there’s something wrong with that and that you’re hurting yourself by doing it, because you’re not.
Jamie DePolo: Excellent! Well, Kelly, thank you so much! I wish you a wonderful holiday season!
Kelly Hogan: Thank you so much, you as well. Thank you for having me!