A Guide to Healthy Eating for the Holidays
The holiday season is here! Unless this corresponds with your bulking season, you might be ready to throw your hands up in frustration and dive into a pool of mashed potatoes and gravy. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average American gains one to two pounds during the holidays. All those healthy habits you’ve worked so hard to develop don’t have to be totally lost, and you can still enjoy your holiday season.
- Don’t skip breakfast. Before a traditional holiday dinner, people like to ditch breakfast thinking that it saves calories. What really happens is an all-day graze and ravenously stuffing your face because you are starving at meal time. Studies show that eating breakfast actually prevents overeating later in the day.
- Stick to regular meal patterns. Maintain some kind of normal routine and schedule for meals and snacks to avoid over-grazing on unhealthy foods. Keeping with your normal meal patterns keeps your blood sugar level stable and helps to control appetite. This will also help you avoid grabbing easy unhealthy meals like fast food or the nearest edible item in sight.
- Stay stocked on healthy foods and snacks. During the holidays, sweets and candy seem to linger around everywhere. Keep some of your healthy favorites at home, in the office or wherever you may be, so if you are hungry you have something to reach for.
- Navigate the hors-d’oeuvres with confidence. Remember your foundations for clean eating- fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean animal products. Look for whole grain crackers, whole grain pita or vegetables to pair with dips like hummus (made from chickpeas). Hard cheeses are lower in fat, so try to choose these from the cheese tray. If the cheese taste rich and creamy like butter, it is high in fat (sorry, brie lovers).
- Don’t neglect the fruits and vegetables. It’s easy to get mesmerized by the carbohydrates and sweets, but eat your fruits and vegetables first to make sure you are filling up on quality nutrition. This helps with the portion control of other calorie rich foods as well. Keep in mind not all holiday fruit and vegetable dishes are created equal. That sweet potato soufflé topped with brown sugar and marshmallows shouldn’t be your go-to vegetable serving.
- Eat slowly. This will allow your hunger cues and feeling of fullness to kick in so you don’t get overstuffed. Enjoy every bite and try not rush.
- Portion control is key. Get a taste of everything you want, but a smaller portion. Even healthier food choices can be overdone, so portion control is a major key to success. If you want to trick your mind, downsize your plate size and you will still feel like you are in feast mode.
- Drink water. A lot of the time when we think we are hungry, it’s actually thirst. Water also helps to keep you full and even fight cravings.
- Limit those holiday cocktails. Alcohol, soda and even eggnog are packed with empty calories. A great alternative for soda or juice is flavored seltzer water.
- Only cook what you need. You don’t want Thanksgiving dinner to turn into a three-day long eating extravaganza. If you want some leftovers, double up on healthier side dishes and turkey to have for leftovers.
- Make new foodie traditions. Keep your holiday favorites, but add some new healthier ones too that are in line with your nutritional goals. If you have a favorite dish, try to find a healthier recreation of that recipe.
- When cooking, get creative with spices. Most traditional dishes use fat, sugar and salt for flavor. If you are headed to a holiday party, offer to bring a healthy dish to contribute and show off your clean cooking skills.
- Think before you act. “There’s plenty of food if anyone wants seconds!” Wait 10 minutes after your meal to let your body begin to digest, then decide if you are still hungry and ready for more. Don’t forget it’s ok to say no to food-pushers, your grandmother will still love you.
- There is a right and wrong way to do dessert. (Yes, the dietitian said you can still do dessert.) Apple pie, pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie are lower in sugar than things like pecan pie, cake and cookies. Added bonus, those also contain fruits and vegetables. If cookies and similar sweets are your family holiday must haves, just make them a smaller bite-sized treat.
- Stick to your exercise and sleep routine. Those workouts will help to burn off some of those extra festive calories. Sleeping a healthy 6 to 8 hours a night can keep you from reaching for high-fat and high-sugar foods for energy.
Although sometimes this can be lost in the chaotic hustle and bustle of the holidays, the point of the season is to celebrate, give thanks and enjoy our family and friends. The food is just a delicious bonus. Once you take the focus off of the food and place it on what really matters, applying these concepts can help to avoid any setbacks to your goals.