Eat Healthfully During the Holidays
What kind of holiday eater are you? Do you head straight for the buffet table and ravenously wolf down seasonal treats, or are you able to maintain the same healthy nutrition habits year-around?
“Many people experience challenges with making healthy food choices during the holidays,” says Deana Chiarchianis, registered dietitian and manager of Memorial Medical Center’s Health Center.
“The holiday season is time to celebrate and socialize with family and friends,” Chiarchianis reflects. “Food is typically at the center of the celebration. From the kitchen, to the break room, to the office party, to the homes of your friends and family, high calorie foods like cookies, candy, appetizers, eggnog, and holiday home baked desserts are abundant. In addition, finding time for physical exercise can be challenging.”
The struggle to eat nutritiously is complicated by other issues, adds Todd Y. Imura, Memorial’s chief clinical dietitian. “Eating is more than nutrition; it’s an emotional activity, and holidays put everyone through the ups as well as the downs.” Imura notes that a variety of situations can cause trouble, such as “too much good food and good company or the other extreme — no one to share the holidays with.”
“The first step to maintaining healthy holiday eating habits is to develop a plan that helps you control holiday overeating and weight gain prior to attending events that include food and alcohol,” Chiarchianis advises.
Consider these useful tips when creating your holiday eating plan:
- Plan the menu in advance. “Coordinate who will bring what so you don’t end up with too many high calorie, nutrition-empty foods,” Imura suggests.
- Use healthy substitutes. “Many magazines and books give great holiday cooking and meal preparation tips,” Chiarchianis says. “Take a traditional recipe and find ways to modify the ingredients to reduce calories. And when you are asked to bring a dish to a holiday party, take the opportunity to bring a low calorie dish with you.” Always experiment with a new dish before bringing it to a party; you may need to make a few adjustments to get it to taste the way you intend. Also, let your guests taste the dish before you announce that you have modified it, since some people have a negative bias toward reduced calorie and fat foods.
- Never go to a party hungry. “Don’t make the mistake of skipping eating all day to ‘save up’ for a party,” Chiarchianis advises. “Once you arrive, you run the risk of immediately hitting the appetizers, which are typically high in calories.” Instead, eat small, lower-calorie meals during the day so you can enjoy celebration foods later without exceeding your total calorie intake. “Have a nutritious snack like yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit or vegetables prior to going out, to curb your hunger so you don’t overeat once you get to the party.”
- Limit alcohol. “Alcoholic beverages can lower your resistance to maintaining healthy food habits and in turn cause you to overeat,” Chiarchianis says.
- Avoid contact with tempting foods. “Everyone has different foods that present challenges,” Chiarchianis notes. “Ask your coworkers to place holiday goodies only in the break room, not in work areas, at the front desk or in individual offices. This reduces exposure for those who are trying to avoid temptation.”
- Practice portion control. “Have a smaller helping of the ‘family special’ and save some for tomorrow,” Imura suggests. “Send your leftovers home with company.”
- Plan meals. “Anticipate and understand your behaviors and tailor them at each phase of the holiday event,” Imura recommends. “Instead of snacking at the beginning of the celebration, get involved in crafts or games. Then, have a sensible dinner and plan to enjoy a great homemade dessert.”
- Don’t substitute food for entertainment. “Schedule structured group activities, like watching home movies, to get away from the table,” Imura advises. Other fun activities that don’t involve food: caroling, games, crafts, sharing photos and taking a walk through the neighborhood.
- Get moving! “Exercise is an excellent way to burn the extra calories you may be taking in during the holiday season,” Chiarchianis says. Scheduled exercise sessions can also alleviate holiday stress.
- Don’t start a diet until after the New Year. “For many people, it isn’t realistic to embark on a weight loss regimen during the holidays,” Chiarchianis says. “Instead, strive to maintain your weight and healthy eating habits by balancing party eating with other meals.”