From the time the Thanksgiving meal is pulled out of the oven to the time that shiny ball drops to help you ring in the New Year, food is abundant — and most of it not so healthy. It can cause anxiety and fear of the dreaded holiday weight gain (the average being 5-10 lbs) and throw us into a primal panic of attempting a dieting plan that swears off those delicious sugar cookies and other calorie-laden holiday goodies (If you just felt a twinge of angst when I said ‘sugar cookies,’ you are not alone).
Weight gain, bloating, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, low energy, skin breakouts – these are just a few things that too much of a good thing can do to our bodies. Chances are that you may have already overdone things a little this season. And that’s ok! I am here to help you slow down the eating train so that you can get yourself back on track and fully enjoy the holiday — holiday goodies and all. Here is your very own Holiday Eating Survival Guide.
- Focus on weight maintenance during the holidays. If you are currently overweight and want to lose weight, this is not the time to do it. Maintenance of your present weight is a big enough challenge during the holiday season. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making unrealistic goals for yourself.
- Plan on NOT dieting. Anticipation of food restriction sets you up for binge-type eating over the holidays (“I am going to eat as much as I can now because after the holidays, I will never eat it again.”) Restrictive diets don’t work in the long run. They increase your chance to regain weight. Why? Restrictive diets are challenging to you mentally, emotionally, and physically — they slow down your metabolism, increase anxiety and depression, leave you with preoccupation of food, and set you up to binge eat.
- Be physically active every day. Let’s be honest — for most of us, exercise is one of the first things that fall off the to-do list when you bump up your (holiday) schedule. Staying active helps to relieve stress, regulate appetite decrease cravings, and burn extra calories from holiday eating. Physical activity, especially aerobic activities (like brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming) help to increase all of this. Schedule your exercise like it is a mandatory meeting. You will thank yourself for it.
- Choose protein-rich foods before your parties. Arrive to a party hungry and you will be more likely to overeat. Not only are you more likely to overeat, but you are also less likely to resist the temptation of eating the higher fat and empty calorie foods like bread, crackers and sweets. Try eating an apple with a few almonds or a small carton of plain greek yogurt beforehand.
- Create a plan that works for you. Think about where you will be, who you will be with, what foods will be available, and what foods are really special to you (that you really want to eat) vs. those that you could probably do without. What are your personal triggers to overeat and how can you minimize them? Once you’ve thought about all of these things, make a plan of action. It’s much easier to deal with a difficult eating situation if you’ve already planned for it. Plan to succeed!
- Say no to mindless eating. While some foods are more calorie-dense than others, it is truly the portion sizes that will make you gain the most weight. It is easy to overeat or mindlessly eat when the tempting food is at your fingertips. At parties and holiday dinners, we tend to eat (or keep eating) beyond our body’s physical hunger simply because food is there and eating is a “social thing.” To avoid this mindless eating, consciously make one plate of the foods you really want. Eat it slowly–enjoying and savoring every yummy bite. Then, when you’re done, pop a mint or stick of gum in your mouth, get a tall glass of water and sip on it throughout the night. Or position yourself away from the buffet table or food trays to keep yourself from overeating. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Choose your beverages wisely. Alcohol beverages range from 150-450 calories per glass. They are high in calories. If you choose to drink, drink wisely. Select drinks with lower calories/carbs like red wine or spirits mixed with soda water and lime. Limit your intake to 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks per occasion. Liquid calories do not only come from, alcohol — watch out for calories in soda, fruit punch, and egg nog.
- Enjoy good friends and family. Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a time to reunite with good friends and family, to share laughter and cheer, to celebrate and to give thanks. Focus more on these other holiday pleasures, in addition to the tastes of holiday foods.
- It’s all about perspective. Overeating one day won’t make or break your eating plan. And it certainly won’t make you gain weight! It takes days and days of overeating to gain weight. If you over-indulge at a holiday meal, put it behind you. Return to your usual eating plan the next day without guilt or despair.
There is not a right or wrong way to do this. Pick and choose a few action steps and try them out. Customize it to make it work for you. Find out what fits your holiday fancy and run with it. Make it fun and make this holiday different!
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