By Flower Aston
The holiday season is a joyful time of year for many, and personally I love all the festivities because it helps keep the focus off the long winter and on gift giving, spending time with loved ones, and, of course, eating delicious food instead! In fact, you may find everywhere you turn there is a delectable treat looking too good to pass up; my personal favorite is peanut brittle!
Although this is a fabulous season for your taste buds, your expanding waistline may not be so appreciative. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves feeling guilty and depressed with overeating or poor food choices and the resulting weight gain. Furthermore, the holiday season is such a busy time of year that often we are choosing fast and convenience foods over home cooking.
Some shrug this practice off thinking oh well, I’ll make some changes at New Years, but for now I’m gonna eat everything in sight! Others worry about holiday weight gain and start new diets, depriving themselves of treats all together. Neither of these choices are healthy, and actually promote a negative relationship with food, often times leading to poor self-image and unnecessary weight gain.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eliminate the negative self-talk and go through the holidays feeling good about ourselves all the while loving our body even if we have indulged a little more than we wanted?
So how do you tackle the holiday season and still come out on top? I’ll give you a hint: now is not the time to start a diet. And weight loss during this stint should never be your goal as you are only setting yourself up for failure. Instead, focus on maintaining your weight, indulge sometimes and be ok with it, but also remain rational about your food choices overall (don’t go crazy eating everything because you already “blew it,” thinking you will make some New Year’s resolutions later).
If we were talking about only one day, I wouldn’t even worry about it! But the problem is the holiday season seems to be ongoing with multiple opportunities to overindulge, especially since holiday parties are numerous. So at these celebrations, instead of trying every delicious treat, remind yourself there will be plenty more at future events this season and choose which one you think you would enjoy the most. Or take a small piece of each delight tantalizing you until they add up to approximately one serving of dessert. This way you can enjoy trying numerous treats without eating full portions of each. Then fully enjoy and savor your choice(s) and, this next part is important, DON’T FEEL GUILTY about it!
The theory is similar for holiday meals. Avoid putting a serving of everything on your plate. Again, choose your favorite dishes, or ones you don’t get very often, to put on your plate and forgo the ones you can live without. To provide you with an example let’s recall a previous holiday dinner I attended and how I went about choosing items to eat. First, I decided on the turkey and cranberry sauce (of course!), then added a nice oven baked sweet potato (passed up the mashed potatoes), helped myself to some green beans with almonds (skipped the green salad and dressing), dished up some stuffing (omitted the dinner roll), and delved into some pumpkin pie (declined the apple pie). I really enjoyed my meal because I had all the selections on my plate I really wanted and had been looking forward too. I didn’t miss the other items because I have them frequently enough throughout the year. Now, did I overindulge? Yes. My portions were comparably hefty and I even went back for seconds! But imagine if I had gone back for seconds on top of putting a serving of every dish available on my plate. I would have been in a food coma for sure! Been there, done that, not too fun!
Let’s hang on to the fact that I took seconds for a moment. And yes, the dietitian took seconds (what a jaw dropping concept!) and I often do, especially at holidays, parties, and special events where good food is often found. If you really enjoy a dish and want to go back for more, go for it! But perhaps you don’t actually need a whole second serving, maybe all you really wanted was a couple more spoonfuls to taste that divine edible again and you find you are satisfied after that amount. Alternatively, if you put a whole serving on your plate it’s easy to be compelled to finish the entire heap because it tastes good, it’s there just staring at you, and you wouldn’t want it to go to waste.
However, if you only put a few spoonfuls on your plate, you have the opportunity to re-evaluate and see if you are satisfied after finishing. Now, because your plate is empty, it’s easier to pay attention to your stomach signaling to you it’s full and to stop eating. Or, you may identify that you still want more and at that point go for a few more spoonfuls. Chances are you are still going to be consuming less overall than if you had scooped a full second helping onto your plate all at once.
Ok so now we know what to do at holiday spreads, but what about the hours leading up to it? One common strategy is skipping meals and snacks to save calories for the holiday dinner and then eating as much as we want. However, I would suggest you are actually better off eating your regular meals and snacks throughout the day. It’s ok to cut these meals down a little bit, and perhaps make these healthy choices since you know you will be having a feast later on, but don’t completely eliminate them because if you do (besides torturing yourself with hunger pains all day) you are likely going to show up overly hungry and probably will excessively overeat taking in more calories than if you would have eaten your other meals in the first place.
One last little tidbit that can really help is fitting in exercise (or physical activity if that is a less daunting term). I know, I know, you’ve heard it again and again. Yet facts are facts, and exercise does more than help to burn off the extra calories taken in over the holidays, it can also help decrease stress (which for many of us is an automatic during the holidays) and alleviate depression. That alone is reason enough to exercise but when stress and depression become emotional triggers for overeating, exercise can help squelch this trigger before it even begins. Furthermore, exercise has the ability to make us feel good about ourselves and have more energy. If that’s not a reason to start exercising, I don’t know of a better one! Why not go for a morning or afternoon walk with family/friends so you can fit some exercise in and continue to partake in visiting? Who knows, a kinfolk stroll may alleviate tension for everyone and avert the stereotypical holiday family breakdown so often depicted on T.V. and holiday movies!
So as you eat your way through the holiday season, keep some of these thoughts in your back pocket and whip them out when you are feeling overwhelmed by the numerous festive treats and feasts. Maybe, just maybe, you can use them to fully enjoy all aspects of the holidays this year!