Healthy for the Holidays

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You can avoid the extra pounds this holiday season

The holiday season is approaching! This time of year brings cooler weather, vacation time, and the chance to sit back, relax, and make cherished memories with our loved ones. It’s time for family, friends, festivities, and of course, food. “The holidays” wouldnt be “the holidays” without all those tasty, timely foods. Whether youre  flying or driving to a family gathering, preparing a feast at home, attending a church potluck or a holiday party at the office, it seems healthy options are a rare commodity when delicious food and drink are around every corner, seemingly trying to sabotage your weight-loss goals.

Our best-laid plans to eat healthy tend to get put on hold.

When it comes down to it, we can’t blame the food. We allow ourselves to indulge, and over-indulge, and when the holiday season is over, many of us return to our regular routines with a couple of extra pounds. But being healthy over the holidays isnt impossible. You can be health-conscious and still enjoy the fun and festivities with a few simple strategies.

  1. Food as fuel

In keeping a healthy relationship with food, I don’t necessarily think in terms of calories; rather, I think of food in terms of nutrient content and the fuel, or energy, it will provide. I know that if I eat a balanced meal that includes protein, veggies, and healthy fats, I’ll have the energy I need to run around with my kids and enjoy the season’s activities. If I overindulge in sugary drinks and desserts, then I know I’ll soon suffer a sugar crash and wind up tired, cranky, and moody – and no one wants to be around a Scrooge!

Changing the way you see food is a critical part to staying healthy – not just during the holidays, but all year round.

Next time you are faced with a table of food choices, think of it as a table of fuel, and go for the options that provide the most nutrients, along with those that are closest to their natural state. For example, if you have a choice of bread/crackers (made of processed flour and thereby stripped of all their nutrients) or a tray of raw veggies, instinct should direct you towards the raw veggies that will deliver vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

  1. Bring your own dish

Another way you can minimize temptation is to prepare ahead of time. If you know a holiday party or meal will most likely not include a healthy option, it’s within the scope of normal social interaction to ask the host if you can bring a dish to share. This also lets friends and family know you’re working on eating healthier, so they won’t be offended if you pass on dessert or alcohol. (Don’t forget that those fun, holiday-themed cocktails are often loaded with sugar, so it’s easy to lose control of your plan by drinking your calories.  And as always, remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.) And who knows – your actions might even encourage your loved ones to take a closer look at their own diet and lifestyle!

  1. Eat before you go

If you have an event to attend and bringing your own dish isn’t an option, then the best way to avoid overindulging is to eat before you go. By eating a small meal ahead of time, you won’t be starving when you get there. Instead of spending your time gorging at the buffet table, you’ll be able to socialize and enjoy more conversation and laughter.

  1. Avoid the sugar rush

Let’s talk desserts! You’re bound to have countless offers for all those wonderful, traditional sweets that you hold near and dear to your heart, so often home-made “with love,” that you may find yourself asking, “How can I refuse?” as you reach for another must-try treat. Remember: you don’t have to say yes to everything you’re offered- but you also don’t have to go to extremes. Avoiding desserts altogether could mean risking social isolation and serious food FOMO (fear of missing out), so instead of a complete ban on sweets, have a strategy. Simply don’t go for the biggest slice of pie, but help yourself to a smaller portion, remembering that sugar is meant to be enjoyed on special occasions, and not as an everyday treat. Then, try not to gobble it down in 10 seconds.

The problem with sugary desserts is that we devour them all at once.

This makes your blood sugar spike, and since your body can only handle a small amount of sugar at one time, your body will convert the extra sugar into fat. A better approach is to take a bite and come back to the plate later; Put the fork down as you savor the taste, texture, and aroma of your treat. You might find that you actually enjoy your dessert more, and by spreading out the amount of sugar you’re consuming over a longer period of time, you have a better chance of avoiding the extra weight gain.

  1. Follow the 80/20 rule

The best strategy to avoid over indulging is to follow the 80/20 rule: eat until you are about 80% full. This is actually a common Japanese practice called, “hara hachi bu.”

You don’t have to eat everything that’s on your plate.

Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed. Simple. Before you take another bite, think: are you really hungry? It’s a good idea to check in with yourself and ask your body what it really needs – not just what it wants. Don’t wait until you’re stuffed. Learn to scale back and stop when you feel satiated. It goes against mom’s “clean your plate” ideas of years ago, but when it comes to having a healthy holiday season in this day and age, it’s all about balance. Enjoy the foods you love in moderation, and remember that mealtimes should be enjoyable – not something that adds stress to your holidays.