Here’s an article I wrote for Significant Living magazine on Ten Health Eating Tips for the Holiday Season:
Food is an important part of almost all holidays, celebrations, family reunions, and cultural traditions. And, this is certainly true of the Jewish festivals and Christian holidays. In fact, most special occasions at church center around faith, food, fellowship, friends, and family. Given that some people can consume 3000 to 4000 calories on any given holiday — and, add to that all the calories consumed at parties and social gatherings — it’s no wonder that so many people gain a little (or even a lot of) weight between Thanksgiving and New Years. But, I have good news! It’s not necessary to avoid holiday gatherings in an attempt to maintain or lose weight. Instead, consider these tips for enjoying food and fellowship during this holiday season!
1. Concentrate on weight maintenance.
Sheri Barke, MPH, RD, of UCLA says, “If you are currently overweight and want to lose weight, this is not the time to do it. Maintenance of your present weight is a big enough challenge during the holiday season. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making unrealistic goals for yourself.”
2. Arrive satisfied.
Gloria Tsang, RD, says, “We often eat faster and more when we are hungry — therefore, eat a wholesome breakfast and lunch on the day to avoid overeating at the party.” If you arrive at a party famished, not only are you more likely to overeat, but you are more likely to choose foods that are higher fat and sugar. Another idea is to eat a light, healthy snack before going to holiday parties. Try eating a piece of fruit, a small carton of yogurt, or a string cheese before you go.
3. Watch portions.
Feel free to enjoy each of the foods served, including dessert or other sweets — just be sure to watch your portions. Always go for small portions. This way you can sample a variety of different foods. Moderation is always the key.
4. Choose beverages wisely.
If you consume alcohol, remember that it can be sky high in calories — with 150-450 calories per serving. By contrast, water is not only calorie-free, but it won’t dehydrate your body the same way that alcohol or coffee may. And, watch out for calories in soda, fruit punch, and eggnog as well. In addition, drinking water before you go to a party, or while traveling to a party, can help reduce your appetite when you arrive.
5. Select food intentionally.
For example, whenever possible, choose leaner cuts of meat for your holiday munching. Turkey is one of the leanest types of meat. And, as a general rule, white meat is leaner than dark meat — so, for example, choose the breast meat of a chicken or turkey rather than the dark meat or the drumstick. In addition, trim the visible fat off meats and remove the skin (which is chock full of fat and calories) from poultry.
6. Slow down.
Gloria Tsang, RD, says, “Eat slowly and stop when you are full.”
It can take 20 – 25 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. Eating slowly will almost always result in eating fewer calories and will give you time to enjoy and savor every tasty bite. Then, when you’re done, consider popping a mint in your mouth and get a tall glass of water to sip on.
7. Stay active.
Physical activity, especially aerobic activities (like brisk walking) not only burns extra calories, but also it can help relieve holiday stress and actually reduce your appetite. Taking a walk before a holiday meal or before leaving to go to a party can reduce your hunger when you arrive at the table — especially if you drink water during and after the exercise.
8. Make a plan.
UCLA’s Barke says, “Think about where you will be, who you will be with, what foods will be available, what foods are really special to you (that you really want to eat) vs. those that you could probably do without, what are your personal triggers to overeat and how can you minimize them. Once you’ve thought about all of these things, make a plan of action. It’s much easier to deal with a difficult social eating situation if you’ve already planned for it.”
9. Sleep well.
One of the shockers in the nutritional research the last year or two has been the association between TOO LITTLE sleep and TOO MUCH weight. It turns out that if you do not get enough sleep the hormone that increases your appetite will increase and the hormone that decreases your appetite will decrease. So, get plenty of sleep at night and consider taking a power nap before a party or holiday meal — as both will improve your metabolism.
10. Take the focus off food.
Lori Lipinski, a Certified Nutritional Consultant, says, “Make celebrating the holidays with your family and friends more fun and meaningful than pigging out on a bunch of nutrient-depleted junk food.” In other words, choose to enjoy good fellowship with your friends and family. As Sheri Barke says, “Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a time to reunite with good friends and family, to share laughter and cheer, to celebrate and to give thanks.”
Use the holiday season as a time not only to enjoy holiday pleasures, including the tastes of holiday foods, but also to practice balance and moderation. So relax, enjoy the holidays, and remember what the season is all about!