First, there is Halloween and all its candy. Then comes Thanksgiving and turkey and all the sides. Throw in holiday parties, Christmas dinners and New Year’s Eve celebrations, and the last two months of the year becomes a calorie-laden nightmare for many Americans.
But, all hope is not lost, says Christy Tunnell, a Ball State University Department of Nutrition and Health clinical lecturer of nutrition and dietetics, who believes that planning ahead is critical for good health during the holiday season.
She has a few tips:
- Remember that not all party food is created equal – “The holidays bring lots of gatherings, and are often filled with high sugar and high fat foods,” Tunnell said. “The key is to fill your plate with enough healthy options to feel full, yet still leave room for smaller servings of some decadent foods. Try to fill 80% of your holiday plate with greens, vegetables and fruit, and allow yourself 20% indulgence.” She also advises that when it’s a potluck gathering, bring your own healthy choice. “That way you know there will be something delicious and healthy to fill up on. Don’t deprive yourself, though. The holidays should be about enjoying friends and family, and that includes indulging in Great-Grandma’s famous cheesecake brownies.”
- Don’t skip meals – “Sometimes people try to ‘save’ calories for later, if they know they have big parties coming up,” Tunnell said. “This is a no-no. You may actually be setting yourself up to binge later. You’ll be extra hungry and have an increased craving for sugars and fats.” She advises that maintaining a balanced blood sugar level will make sure you do not overeat. One hour before the party, try to eat a balanced snack – a mixture of protein and carbohydrate. Maintain your normal eating schedule, but make your meals 20% smaller, to give you the option of indulging in some party foods.
- Watch out for portion distortion – Tunnell revealed the average person should aim to consume desserts in moderation. “Trying just a bite or two of higher calories items allows you to get all the flavor, but a fraction of the calories. Choosing a smaller plate can also help you keep your portions small. Sitting down with your plate and practicing mindful eating encourages you to slow down and enjoy your food. It will also allow your body the 20 minutes or so to register that you are full.”
- Watch what you drink – “If you want to maintain your waistline, limiting your consumption of high calorie beverages is a great place to start,” she said. “A cup of egg nog can be about 225 calories, and a cup of hot buttered rum can run up to 300 calories. That’s a lot of extra calories and you’ll likely still be hungry. In addition, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making it more likely that you’ll overindulge and ditch your nutrition plan.” She also advises that flavored sparkling water can be a great go-to. “It is festive and tastes great. If you choose to have alcohol, try ‘nursing’ your drink and having a glass of water after each drink. Studies have found that when people drink more water throughout the day, they eat fewer total calories. Aim for a minimum of 64 ounces per day.”
- Commit to making healthy meals and snacks at home – “You may have a dozen holiday parties to attend between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but when you are at home, make good healthy meals,” Tunnell said. “ Feeling energized during the holidays is just as much about getting the right nutrients into your body, as it is about keeping extra calories at bay.” In addition, she advises to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and drink plenty of fluids. Snacks should include a healthy protein and some fiber. Cut-up vegetables, cashews, peanuts, raisins, boiled eggs and dark chocolate can all be part of your healthy snack plan.
- Keep a fitness routine – Tunnell said that when juggling social obligations, it’s tempting to let a training regime fall by the wayside. Keeping as much movement as possible in a daily routine will help stave off unwanted pounds. At a minimum, aim for at least one structured training session per week. Even a brisk walk or light jog for 20-30 minutes can give you some quality “me time,” which is often compromised at this time of year with a full agenda. “Your first hour upon waking, your mind is calm and receptive. This is a good time to meditate, do yoga, walk, run or simply deep breathe. People who exercise first thing in the morning are more successful at keeping a regular exercise program.”