This time of year, there are many temptations that might strain your usual good judgement when it comes to healthy eating. It is certainly easy to get carried away by all of the holiday merry making. Unfortunately, it is also easy to put on an extra 3-5 pounds over the holiday season, by just adding an extra 200-250 calories a day over the season. My own pecan pie recipe will add 200 calories for what some people would consider less than a full slice. And even though 3-5 pounds may not sound like much, most people find it difficult to lose that amount of weight after the holidays.
It is possible to make some good choices that will allow you to get through the holidays with less guilt about your eating, and hopefully little change to the scales. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Think before you eat.
It may sound simple, but planning can make a difference. Don’t eat some of everything at the party. Take a first trip around the food table to look at all of the options, then choose only the foods that you feel are “worth the calories”. Leave your least favorites for someone else.
- Be a social butterfly.
It takes a few minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that it is full. Eat slowly, and spend plenty of time visiting with friends and family while you are eating and before going back for seconds or dessert. That time spent in conversation will make the gathering more enjoyable, and will give your brain time to realize that you are actually full.
- Choose the smaller plate.
It just seems like more food on a smaller plate, and believe it or not, your brain can be fooled by things like that.
- Keep your distance.
Don’t stand around the food at the party. Fill your small plate, then do your socializing away from the food. This makes it harder to mindlessly reach for more food without thinking about it. Getting more food becomes more of a conscious choice.
- Eat your veggies.
Don’t ignore the veggies or fruit on the buffet. You get more food for the same calorie expenditure. If you eat these first, you are less likely to overeat on the higher calorie foods.
- Don’t go to the party starving.
Before you go to a party, have a small snack that includes some protein and complex carbohydrates, like maybe some apple slices with peanut butter. This will help you to avoid over eating on unhealthy foods.
- Pay attention to what you drink.
Egg nog is high in calories, so consider other options or smaller portions. Alcohol on an empty stomach can increase your appetite and decrease your ability to control your eating. Drink alcohol only after having a little something to eat, and consider a glass of water between drinks.
- Dance the night away (or walk).
Dancing is a great way to burn calories. If people are dancing at the party, by all means participate. If there is music at the party, maybe suggest some dancing. If you are at a family gathering, consider suggesting a group walk to look at holiday lights in the area before or after the meal, or maybe between dinner and dessert.
- Make good cooking choices.
If you are the one preparing the food, be creative with recipes and use less sugar, or more healthy fats, such as using canola oil instead of oils with higher saturated fats, or use half and half instead of heavy cream. I have been slowly decreasing the amount of sugar in many of my recipes without my family ever noticing. (Don’t tell them.) Choose turkey or fish instead of red meats. Fish is actually a Christmas Eve tradition in some cultures.
- Focus on family.
Even though food is a big part of our holiday traditions, try to put more focus on being together with family and friends, telling family stories, laughing, and having fun.
It is OK to indulge or overeat once in a while, as long as you try to balance that with moderation as your usual guide. I think if you keep these things in mind, you might be able to get through the New Year without having to add “lose 5 pounds” to your list of resolutions.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor