The holidays are synonymous with an abundance of rich foods and overindulgence. Special foods at parties and celebrations can threaten to capsize motivation for healthy eating and regular exercise.
Like it or not, food is an important part of the holiday season. Whether your taste runs to old standbys or to something new, it’s easy for normal eating patterns to take a back seat at this time of the year.
In fact, the average American typically gains about one to five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. While a few pesky pounds may not sound like much now, they can add up over the years.
A typical Thanksgiving meal contains more than 3,000 calories. The good news is that it takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound—so, if you’re careful, you might escape from your holiday feast with little to show for it.
But overeating for one night doesn’t give you a license to blow the day, or the week. Focus on enjoying a few treats you really love, while trying to keep about two-thirds of your plate packed with fruit, veggies, and other healthy fare.
Many health conscious people strive to maintain their weight during this time of the year because the plethora of indulgences make dieting nigh on impossible.
A study by Pennsylvania State University found that when people ate among friends or family, they consumed about 50 percent more than if they were alone or among strangers. Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State, theorizes that watching others indulge lowers our resolve, and the conversation prolongs the meal and distracts us from calorie counting.
The holidays should be about friends, family, and a healthy portion of pie, not guilt about gaining weight. Enjoy meals with family and friends, but if you choose to linger at the table, pop a stick of gum or sugarless breath mint in your mouth to prevent picking at that last roll or candied yam. Or, when you’ve finished, simply excuse yourself from the table and move to another conversation away from the table or track down those kids who have already scampered away.
Keep temptation at bay by eating regular healthy meals the day of a party or holiday gathering. Starving yourself will only cause excess hunger or overeating later. And there’s no point in trying to “save” calories for later. Your body can’t use all of that food for energy at once, even if you’re staying within your daily caloric needs. A lot of what you will consume will be stored as fat, not to mention that skipping meals slows your metabolism. Try snacking on fruit, high-protein cottage cheese, or soup before heading out.
A study conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that people who consumed a bowl of hot soup before meals ate less, lost more weight, and kept it off longer. “It’s hot so you have to eat slowly and pay attention,” says John Foreyt, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Research Center at Baylor. “Soup also fills your stomach, so you eat less later.”
For many, keeping a food journal over the holidays proves to be helpful. Write down what you eat to monitor your caloric intake. Research has shown that people who keep a food diary consume 15 percent less food than those who don’t. Another way to avoid overconsumption is to mingle, mingle, mingle. Don’t park yourself in front of the buffet—you’ll eat more than you would if it were across the room.
Your overall health is ultimately determined by long-term choices made throughout the year, but by the time the Menorah’s packed away and the Christmas tree has become fertilizer, you don’t want to be left with five or 10 pounds of holiday memories around your middle. With your newfound holiday eating knowledge, you’ll be ready for all your upcoming holiday celebrations.
Merry Christmas, Mazel Tov, and bon appétit!
(This article was previously published in Melaleuca’s “Leadership In Action” magazine)