Healthy Holiday Eating

02 Nov Healthy Holiday Eating

Ah, the holidays are upon us. Maybe you light up with joy like a Christmas tree. Maybe you cringe as if you were up for a root canal. But you know one thing about the holidays; too much food, drinks, sweets, and consequently, that seemingly guaranteed weight gain. And then the guilt rolls in. Back to the gym on January 1st, to shed those pounds. Maybe. Only to repeat it the next year. The cycle begins anew.

So how can we break the cycle?

Maintain, don’t gain

How can we set ourselves up for a healthier holiday season? How to actually   “Maintain, don’t gain”?

Some recent studies report an average weight gain of about 1 pound among adults during the period between mid-November and mid-January. Yes, that doesn’t seem like much but the range in individual weight changes was large, and adults who were already overweight gained more weight than those who were at a healthy weight.

Researchers further found that that the biggest predictors of weight gain during the holidays were hunger level and physical exercise. Those study participants who were the least hungry and exercised the most were, not surprisingly, the least likely to put on unwanted pounds.

Let’s look at the cycle, what else contributes to holiday weight gain, and how we can reframe this issue and map out a better game plan this year.

The cycle starts

The issue of holiday weight gain is deeply imbedded and universally accepted in our culture. Not surprising that it’s one of the most recycled subject in media and has billion-dollar industries relying on it for their top-revenue quarters.

The annual holiday weight-gain cycle starts under an orange flag: Halloween. In the past this was the one day each year when children could dress as their favorite fairytale or superhero character, were granted permission to stay up late, and fueled their late-night shenanigans by eating unlimited amounts of free treats. But, this once kid-centric holiday has transformed into an $8 billion a year industry for all ages. Spending on candy alone accounts for a whooping $2 billion! For Halloween!

It’s candy-galore. Trick-or-treaters receive an average of 91 pieces, more than any superhero-kid can stomach in a day or night. So not only do children nowadays need a few weeks to gobble up their treats, their parents and other adults follow suit: Sometime mid-October the ubiquitous candy appears everywhere- from the office to the bank. Even at the gym and doctor’s office you’re greeted with candy corn and other temptations.

The cycle continues

Next in the annual weight-gain extravaganza is Thanksgiving. This traditional holiday was originally celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. And while Thanksgiving, like Halloween, used to be celebrated on one day only, it has evolved into an smorgasbord of eating opportunities that often stretches, along with our waist line, until our next stop on the weight-gain train, Christmas.

After Christmas the eating-marathon slows down just to re-surface one last time for the festivities of the New Year’s Eve Celebration. One last day we can eat to our hearts’ content before we are entering the next stage in our yearly cycle:

The cycle closes – Losing the weight, again

While up till the end of December all we see advertised is food, come January, it is a different landscape in the media: Diets, diets, diets. Still experiencing a food hangover, many of us now embark on that quest to undo all those holiday indulgences.

Stocked with virtuous New Year’s resolutions we are motivated to hit that gym every day, spin and sweat those pounds away. We dream of miraculously re-setting our food- over taxed system with cleanses and detoxes and fueled by nothing but fresh juices we are up for the task: shedding the weight yet again, once more…until the next year.

Old problems. New solutions

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Attributed to Albert Einstein

So how can you break this cycle? How can you enjoy all the season has to offer while staying healthy and maintaining your weight?  Start by re-framing the issue, take charge, and map out your holiday-eating plan. Here are some things to think about:

Be Intentional:

First and foremost- be intentional about your holiday season. How do you want the story to go this year? Do you want to be in charge of your food choices while enjoying those seasonal treats that remind you of your childhood and home traditions? A little foresight and planning will go a long way.

  • Map out your holiday agenda including travel and events
  • Plan in regular movement and exercise
  • Treat each holiday as a special day and continue your healthy, balanced eating pattern on the other days. It doesn’t need to be a two-month binge.
  • Avoid last supper mentality: Don’t eat that whole pumpkin pie because it is Thanksgiving- you can easily make that family recipe again

Be Prepared

Do you feel as if you have no control over our food choices when eating out and attending parties? Avoid the dreaded holiday-party food-anxiety by planning ahead:

  • If you have specific dietary needs alert your host or family in advance or bring your own dish
  • Don’t skip meals before and arrive ravenous; this is the best way to lose control over your choices. Instead, choose healthy options throughout the day and eat a small protein-based snack before
  • Get up from the table when you’re done to avoid nibbling and more temptations
  • Plan for leftovers: give guests doggy bags, freeze left-over foods or donate them to a homeless shelter or local soup kitchen

Be mindful:

Mindful eating can increase awareness and pleasure of your meal while improving digestion, absorption and metabolism.

  • Take your time, chew each bite slowly (it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that you’re full)
  • Notice how your food looks, feels and tastes in your mouth
  • Notice how the smell and thought of your meal make you feel
  • Savor each morsel
  • Choose foods that you really love to eat
  • Stop when you are full or satisfied

Be present:

It’s a special event- so enjoy! Instead of stressing over calories and overindulging focus on what it is really about: socializing, celebrating, and enjoying life.

  • Focus on the people you are with, the conversations, the togetherness
  • Notice the beautiful set up and environment
  • Stay relaxed, breath, and enjoy
  • Avoid multitasking while eating-when we eat unconsciously we eat more
  • Take a walk after the mealthink about what a wonderful experience you just had

Be picky:

  • Choose fiber-rich fruits and vegetables for appetizers, eat high-calorie foods sparingly and avoid dishes high in saturated fat and sodium
  • Ask what’s on the menu or, if dining at a buffet, take a glance at all the options and decide what you really want to have and what you can skip
  • Decide what goes on your plate, enjoy fully, and avoid seconds
  • Focus on the foods that truly give you pleasure and skip any fillers that you can have anytime (hello bread and butter)
  • Don’t eat to please. If you are full/satisfied, take a break and politely decline extra servings
  • Mind liquid calories- hot chocolate, eggnog, and alcoholic beverages can really add up
  • Focus on fall vegetables, spices, and flavors
  • Experience with healthier versions of all time favorite recipes

Be grateful:

  • It’s the season to be thankful- say grace at the table or find other ways to appreciate all those yummy offerings
  • Savoring your meal can also be an act of gratitude to your body and the earth that created this delicious food

Each of these special days are just that, special. Have fun, be grateful for the food and the company and be mindful of your choices. You’ll be enjoying yourself at the time, and be thanking yourself in January when you realize you’ve broken the cycle.

If you want to come in to discuss healthy eating in the holidays, come and see me at Crossover Health. And of course, all of us here at Crossover Health wish you a joyful, health-ful season.

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