Authors: Registered Dietitians
(HealthCastle.com) There is no shortage of opportunities to over-indulge during the holiday season; a period that lasts anywhere from about December 1 through the New Year. The suggestion that this time of year presents more challenges when it comes to our healthy eating resolve is not just a whimsical idea, it's backed by research in psychology and behavioural sciences.
We know that when presented with many options, people tend to eat more. When there's more variety of textures, flavours, temperatures and sights, people easily find room for more. This doesn't even take into account alcohol's effect of lowering our inhibitions or interfering with our judgments about portion sizes, or total amount of food eaten, all of which can lead to convenient, or situational excuses, like "hey, it's a party'.
While we often hear of people gaining 10 pounds or more during the holidays, it's really in the neighbourhood of 1 to 2 pounds, if any real weigh gain occurs at all. At first, 1 to 2 pounds doesn't sound like much, and it isn't, but the vast majority of people won't turn around and lose that weight once the holidays are over; five to ten years worth of holidays later and you're looking at an extra 10 to 20 pounds of fat. Oh how the weight just 'mysteriously' creeps on.
Here's the good news. With a few tips up your sleeve, you'll be able to enjoy the best that the season has to offer without feeling deprived or out of control, but please, keep one foot grounded in reality. There are no free lunches in life, nothing happens by accident, and ultimately you are in control of your holiday eating navigation. You will have to make an effort if your goal is to stay on track. No blaming others for the dessert they brought or served, no blaming your mother-in-law or sister because you didn't want to offend them by saying no to second helpings, and yes, you will need to monitor your alcohol consumption too. If you want to go for broke, then go for broke, but own your decision to do so!
Don't skip meals
Skipping meals as a strategy to keep your intake of calories low rarely works unless you've got the discipline of a monk. More often than not, it back fires by increasing the likelihood over-eating once the goodies come out. Don't blame the host, blame your biology. If the face of food a starving animal will eat, it's the law of the jungle.
Moderate alcohol intake
Bummer I know, especially if you've move mountains to find a designated driver but alcohol and alcoholic drinks pack a punch, and I'm not talking about a hangover. A glass of traditional eggnog can have up to 500 calories and you'd just be getting started. You can cut back on your alcohol calories by choosing light beers [they're not as bad as they sound], doing a white wine spritzer or alternating with something like soda and lime.
You can skip these all together as they're typically loaded with calories and often only serve to give people something to do whilst they chit-chat. One chicken wing has about 100 calories and that's before any dipping sauce. Don't be afraid of a few fresh vegetables or cut up fruit. Eating is like anything in life, best seen as a budget. If you want to try a couple of 'happy appies' do so but factor them into your gastronomic budget [remember, a few of these parties over the month add the calories add up quickly!].
Use smaller plates
Nothing could be this easy right? Wrong. Smaller plates give the illusion that you have more food in front of you than if the same serving of food was on a dinner plate. It's not rocket science, besides, unless you're a master at stacking, most will simply put less food on a smaller plate, a.k.a. forced portion control.
Do not hang out at the table where the food is. Get a serving if you wish and then mingle with the guests on the other size of the room. Out of site, out of mind. If presented with variety, and more importantly, ease of selection, people will simply eat more.
Don't feel you have to say yes every time food or drink is offered - don't feel guilty about offending the host. Being a people pleaser doesn't do anyone any good. A simple 'no thank you' will suffice or leave some food on your plate and say you're still working on it.
Leave what you don't want to finish.
Truth be told, it took me some 20 years to learn how to do this one. No deep psychoanalysis needed, I simply cleaned my plate - every time, even when I knew it was past the point of enjoyment. As the saying goes, you should always leave wanting more; stop before you pass the point of saturation.
The best defence is a good offence
Have a small snack before leaving for the party, ideally something with fibre, fat and/or protein to help curb your appetite. Simply do not to go to a party hungry. Try..
- 1/3 of an apple with 1 tsp peanut butter
- a couple of crackers and 2 tsp hummus
- 100g container of yogurt and 1 tsp of ground flax seed or whole chia seeds
- a scoop of whey protein in water and 2 tsp of ground flax seed
Think about what you're reaching for, be conscious of your choices.
Doesn't, or rather, shouldn't this apply to almost everything in life? I know that sounds very Puritan of me but can you really have it all? Can you eat and drink whatever you want to, was much as you want to, whenever you want to and not worry about health? Yes, if you're training like Michael Phelps did when he was gearing up for the Olympics but for the average Joe like like you or me, unlikely. So, if you know you're a dessert person and really want a piece of pie or cheesecake, skip the roll and butter, or only take one starch - does anyone really need potato, peas, dinner roll, stuffing and corn? Or pass on the appetizers or cut out the alcohol. You get the idea.
Back on track
Remember, no one meal or one holiday season is going to break your efforts if you don't want it to. If you 'indulge' more than you plan to, get back on track the next day! Avoid the 'all or nothing' mindset.