It’s that time of year again when we gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Last week there was Friendsgiving, your work Thanksgiving and of course this coming week is the BIG event. And then from here it only continues until Valentine’s Day with the festivities – am I right? It’s a marathon of food celebrations in these next few months. And while research shows that people typically only gain a pound, the problem isn’t the pound that they will gain, it’s the slow and steady weight gain over the years that culminates in an excessive amount of weight gain years later. Needless to say, that leads to trendy nutrition topics like “Maintain, don’t gain” or “Holiday Survival Plan” – don’t worry, I won’t call my blog any trendy title. But what I will do is focus on overall healthy strategies that are important any time of the year – because guess what? We’re all human, we all eat, and food is more than just fuel, it is social. Let’s put less weight on weight and cultivate healthy eating habits that are sustainable for life, holidays or no holidays.
1st things 1st. Have a PLAN. A plan? Yes, a PLAN! Sorry for the all caps, but I really do think that planning is KEY – when it comes to regular meal planning for the week to planning what holiday parties/events you’ll be going to. The frequency of the celebrations is sometimes underestimated and herein lies the problem. But guess what? It’s okay to say no. You really don’t have to go to every party or you can go to every party. You do YOU. But definitely have a plan. If that means only having 1 work celebration, 1 friend celebration and 1 family celebration (instead of 2-3 friend celebrations and dividing your day for 2 family celebrations), that again is okay. I think it’s helpful to know how many celebrations that you’re expecting to attend. It also helps for you to know how to ultimately plan your day – meaning it’s just like any other day and there shouldn’t be any skipping meals and/or skipping your exercise routine. Keeping your routine, the same.
I just said it, but it bears having its own separate note – no skipping meals! This is true any time of the year. How many times do you hear people saying that they’re going to skip a meal, so they can “save” up for the bigger meal later. Yeah, no it doesn’t work that way. If only it were that easy. And think about it, how many times have you done that only to feel miserable afterwards because you ended up stuffing yourself? You know I’m right. Smaller portions spaced out is the best to help you avoid overeating and enjoying the meal that much more. Promise. So have breakfast before the big event. Enjoy a few appetizers if you know you’ll be at the gathering early and the meal isn’t served until later. Scope it out and have that plan that I mentioned before. Just don’t situate yourself next to the food table and munch the whole time. Strategy my friends, strategy.
Portion control and moderation are the keys to success. See? It’s not just important for the holidays, this is key for overall health at any time. We have this portion distortion thing going on in America and our plate size (& food) have grown over the years. If you have a bigger plate you tend to fill your plate up. It’s just normal human behavior. Obviously if you are using a smaller plate and pile the food mountain high you too have defeated the purpose. But in all seriousness, we do need to watch our portions. Sometimes just taking a spoonful sample is all you need. That way you can have a little sampling of all that is at the spread and decide what you like best. Because we’ve all been there where we served too much of one thing and end up not liking it. No one needs their Aunt Jane staring at them because they didn’t finish what she made. Awkward. At my house we typically had our meal at 1 or 2 pm. And then would eat again by 6 or 7 pm. That 2nd meal was always the best because the plate was served with only the best of the best. And dessert. The key with desserts (as always) is moderation. They can be (and should be) included every now and then…otherwise people tend to go overboard. I usually take a small sample of all the desserts that are homemade. Sorry store-bought. No room for you. Only the best of the best and that my friends are the homemade desserts. Desserts should be enjoyed in moderation. Just check the frequency of how often they are occurring. It is easy to creep in around the holidays and start to be an everyday thing. And while everyday might not be the issue, the portion size may be. So just keep a heads up around desserts. It’s all about being mindful around food – because food is not only used for a physical purpose, but it is also social, and at times emotional. Is your mind full? Or are you being mindful?
A few key tricks for any time of year. Do not situate yourself close to the food table. Just don’t do it (because we all have done it). You start talking to a friend and then find yourself going hand to mouth with all the appetizers and before you know it you’ve eaten a whole plate of food. So yes, remove yourself from the proximity of the food. Socialize elsewhere.
Eat slowly and enjoy every bite. May sound hokey, but it’s true. How many times do we scarf down our food instead of taking each bite and really savoring it? Smell your food. Try to guess what spices were used in each dish. It does take forever to cook the meal – seriously, it can take ½ a day to prepare the Thanksgiving meal. Might as well spend a little more time around the table enjoying it. We rank our dishes as to what was best and what we shouldn’t repeat for the next year. The funny thing is they’re all tasty, we’re just a family of tough critics.
Watch your alcohol calories. Not only do they add up fast, but 9 times out of 10, when you drink alcohol the tendency in people is that they overeat later. May not be a side effect for all, but it is common. I’m also not the Grinch when it comes to drinking, but what I would recommend is paying attention to the frequency and amount of alcohol consumed. You might not be one to have a drink during the week, but come the weekend, now you’ve had as many drinks in one night as some have during the whole week. Remember, they do add up and alcohol does let our guard down. Moderation in all things, alcohol included. And if you're anything like me, you like to be social but don't love alcohol. Enter kombucha. See picture below. Looks like alcohol, but it's really kombucha. Works every time.
Eat your (non-starchy) veggies. You’ve heard me say it before and you’ll hear me say it many more times. Bring a non-starchy vegetable to your party/festivities. If you bring it people WILL eat it. Make it your new norm. Maybe my family eats more non-starchy vegetables than yours does, but that’s not the point. The point is to include as many non-starchy vegetables as we can. And I don’t mean to slather them in cream and butter and call it a day. Get creative and see how you can flavor it but still be a healthy option at the table. And just to be clear, non-starchy vegetables include: all the green leafy vegetables: kale, collards, spinach; mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, carrots, green beans, Brussels, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes…and more.
Movement. See what I did there, I called it movement instead of exercise. The minute we call it exercise people have a set idea of something they may not want to do. But call it movement and people are okay with that. Or at least I think they are. My point is, move more. If it’s your normal day for exercise, make sure to include it. If it’s Thanksgiving and there’s a local Turkey Trot in town, make that a new tradition that your family is involved in (and if that’s too much stress because it does take all day to cook, maybe you need to get a pre-cooked turkey so you're not in the kitchen all day…maybe? Just a thought). In between football games (or basketball, depending on the holiday) go out and play a real game of football. Go for an afternoon stroll with the famliy and/or head to the nearby playground so the kids can run around and get all their energy out. New exercise guidelines came out just last week and the only thing that’s really new is that they want us to move more. Meaning if you can’t get 30 minutes in all at once, divide it out and make it three sets of 10-minute increments. Move more. That is all.
Remember that social gatherings during the holidays are a time to embrace and give thanks for our family and friends. Spend less time focused on food and more time enjoying the camaraderie of your loved ones. Holiday time does not need to be synonymous with weight gain (or you being obsessed with thinking about your weight). Make this your year not to gain those few extra pounds that you adamantly proclaim to lose on New Year’s Day by maintaining healthy habits that you’ve established throughout the year. Happy Holidays!