Every year without fail, I get calls from reporters asking about how to survive the holidays. It’s a tough season for most people to eat healthfully, between the time spent shopping and running to parties and the endless gifts of food and those once-a-year holiday treats. I love the holiday season and value my health, and the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. In this chapter I give strategies to make your holidays healthy without hassle.
HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN
Don’t assume that weight gain is a given during the holidays. For many years it was commonly accepted that people gain about five or more pounds during the holidays. But a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed otherwise To evaluate holiday weight gain, researchers from the National Institutes of Health weighed 195 people during three time periods: preholiday, holiday season (mid-November to early January), and after the holiday period. They found that the average weight gain was about one pound. The philosophy of feasting during the holidays because tomorrow you diet, however, can truly make matters worse. The strategies in this chapter combined with regular exercise during the holidays will keep you healthy. But don’t forget to keep the pleasure in the holiday season.
RICH HOLIDAY MEALS
There’s no doubt that holiday meals are all dressed up, usually richer and with more fat. These strategies can help you avoid overindulging.
- Don’t arrive to dinner on a ravenous stomach, as this can easily lead to overeating.
- There’s no food you love that you can’t have—any time of the year. This attitude makes holiday food less magnetic.
- Rather than scooping out a serving from each dish, choose the holiday foods you simply can’t do without.
- Pass up food that you won’t miss. For example, a roll with butter at mealtime is not likely to be missed, and forgoing it is not likely to lead to feelings of deprivation.
- Beware of lingering. When you are finished eating, remove your plate, put a napkin on your plate, or put your silverware on your plate to prevent unintentional nibbling at the table.
- If you eat more than you intended, let it go, rather than thinking you blew it. All-or-none thinking can lead to even more eating.
Holidays are a time for celebrating, and more often than not, celebrating means food, a continuous smorgasbord of goodies! Sumptuous desserts, delicate little chocolates, roasted ham basted in brown sugar, eggnog and other holiday cocktails. And you have to be polite, right? The first sight of a candy cane or chocolate bunny makes many people dread inevitable holiday munching. But rest easy, there are ways to survive the feasts without foundering.
Making the Rounds at Holiday Buffets
Buffets can be challenging anytime, but during the holidays the challenge can be doubled by the variety of food and the social factor. Several studies indicate that when we’re exposed to a wider variety of foods at one sitting, we have a tendency to eat more. We are also likely to eat more when there are other people around: the more people present, the more we tend to eat. Here’s what you can do to counter the holiday overeating effect:
- Carry on your conversations away from the buffet table; otherwise, it’s all too easy to turn to food when searching for words.
- Focus on socializing at parties: introduce yourself to others rather than making food the primary focus.
- Offer to bring a dish, and make it a healthy one.
- Plan to make one trip to the buffet table, unless you are still hungry.
Holiday Cocktail Parties
Cocktail parties are also culprits. The following tips should help you be sociable and sated.
- Try not to arrive on an empty stomach, as an empty stomach absorbs alcohol more quickly. Alcohol is the only digestible substance that gets absorbed in the stomach rather than in the intestine.
- Be careful of unconscious nibbling on appetizers or holiday goodies that you don’t truly want.
- Try making one drink last the whole party, or try spacing alcoholic drinks with noncaloric beverages such as mineral water.
Holiday Food Gifts
Holidays are the time for giving. As we ponder what to get whom and how much to spend, very often we turn to food, which is easy, convenient, and something everyone likes. Whether you are giving or receiving, food is an alluring way to say thanks. Graciously accepting a food gift doesn’t mean you have to eat it (unless you want to). Eat some, if you wish, freeze the rest, or share your bounty at the office or with neighbors. What do you do with a food basket with cheeses and canned meats that you really don’t want? Try donating the gifts to a local food bank.
This is an excerpt from Eating on the Run.