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12/1/18: Healthy Holiday Eating

‘Tis the time of year for overindulging! Does the title of this article make you feel despair? Well, eating over the holidays does not have to be an exercise in frustration and futility. So, what is one to do, now that the holidays are upon us? Below are some tips that might help you.

First of all, don’t set yourself up to feel like a failure. This is not the time of year to try to lose weight. Maintaining your current weight would be a more realistic goal. Setting unrealistic goals for yourself, like trying to lose weight or not eating your favorite holiday foods, is setting yourself up for failure. Holidays, celebrations and family and cultural traditions almost always involve food and eating with family and friends. To try to deprive yourself of these customs would be unlikely to succeed. Plus then you will feel badly about yourself, which is not helpful to efforts to eat healthfully. Another thing that people often do that helps set them up for being unsuccessful is to plan on dieting after New Year’s. This sets up a binge-eating mentality. People think, “well, since I am going on a “diet” after the first of the year I had better eat all I can now”. Plus it is known that restrictive diets do not work in the long-term. They increase your loss of lean body mass compared to fat, slow down your metabolism, and increase one’s anxiety, depression, food preoccupation, and binge-eating likelihood. In addition, they make weight regain more likely.

Plan ahead. Think about what the day ahead will bring, who you will be with, what foods might be available, which foods you really would like to eat vs. those that you might just eat because they are available, and what your personal triggers to overeat are and how you might avoid them. If you are hosting a party, plan to have healthier choices available. If you are attending a function, plan to take something that is lower in fat and calories so you know there will be at least one “better” choice available. Here are just a few ideas to reduce calories: use applesauce in place of oil or egg substitutes in place of whole eggs when baking, use plain nonfat or Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, substitute skim milk in place of whole milk, and skim the fat off broth before making gravies or soups. The internet and magazines are full of tips about how to cut calories from foods. One I recently saw that has ideas for reducing the calories in common holiday side dishes, while still maintaining the flavor, is “What Healthier, 200-Calorie Thanksgiving Sides Look Like” by Danielle Omar, RD

Eat your regular meals throughout the day, including breakfast. Planning to deprive yourself all day may very well backfire, with you being ravenous and eating everything in sight when you arrive at a party. You may even want to have a light snack like a small carton of yogurt, some string cheese, or a piece of fruit before you go to the party, to help prevent you from overeating when you get there.

Take steps to avoid recreational eating. Start your meal with a low-fat salad like a tossed salad with just veggies or a broth soup. To avoid recreational eating, look over the table before starting to put foods on your plate. Consciously choose the foods that you really want to eat, and take small portions of them. Savor the flavor of each tasty bite. If you think you want to go for seconds, wait at least a few minutes, as it takes that long for your brain to register that your stomach is full, and assess your fullness before going for the seconds. Once you have finished your plate, put a mint or stick of gum in your mouth and get yourself a full glass of water on to sip on for the rest of the evening or day. Stay away from the buffet table.

Watch your liquid calories. Many traditional holiday drinks are loaded with calories—think eggnog, punches, gourmet coffee drinks, and alcohol. Choose lower-fat versions of these yummy beverages. Opt for club soda or sparkling water with maybe a splash of juice or some lemon or lime slices. Diet sodas are calorie-free. Select light beers and wines if you do choose to drink. And limit your alcohol intake—for lots of reasons—but also because of the calories you can unwittingly take in. Alcohol can cause you to lose track of how much else you have eaten as well.

Be active. Take a walk after your holiday meal. Play games with your family and friends. Focus on being with the ones you love and socializing and not so much on eating.

And, finally, maintain your perspective. Overeating a couple of times during the holidays is not the end of your efforts to eat healthfully. Don’t beat yourself up when you overeat (because that is going to happen to almost all of us!) Just get back on track the next meal or day. Try not to let guilt or despair overtake you. Enjoy these most special times of year and the special foods you only eat at these times.