Now that the holiday season is here, holiday foods and meals take center stage. And this is as it should be. Food is a terrific celebration of friendships, of family and of love. These celebrations do not have to lead you to unhealthy eating habits. With a little advance planning, you can really enjoy your food and the holidays. Remember that the mental attitude you bring to the table is as important as what’s on the table.
1. Plan Ahead. Without thinking about what is likely to be served, the best intentions fall by the wayside faster than you can shake a drumstick. If you absolutely cannot pass up the cornbread or cinnamon buns warm from the oven or Aunt Fay’s amazing apple cake, then you need to decide what and how much you will eat so someone does not have to roll you out. If you’re going to eat the apple cake that’s fine, but remember to eat fewer quiche and pastry puff appetizers when you arrive and to pace yourself throughout the meal.
2. Strategize. So if you’re not eating puff pastry appetizers, what are you going to eat? If you’re going to someone’s house for the holidays or if it’s in your home, serve something that is good to eat like a salad, lots of vegetables and maybe shrimp cocktails and take larger portions of those and smaller portions of the rest of the meal. Eat your vegetables first. They’ll fill you up, leaving less room for the more calorie-packed stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie.
3. Relationships first, food second. Yes, the holidays have wonderful foods – everywhere. But the reason you’re gathered together with relatives and friends, rather than eating alone is to be in contact with people. Focus on the people and what you’re doing instead of strategizing how to get those last potato puffs before Aunt Harriet does. Let Aunt Harriet have it. Besides, if her mouth is full, it will keep her from gossiping and give you the opportunity to connect with people you care about.
4. Eat small meals throughout the day. Do not make the mistake many people do of eating virtually nothing during the day to “save” extra calories for the big meal. You’ll end up hungry and eat things you don’t particularly like. Eat high-fiber mini meals for breakfast and lunch with snack (think whole fruit) in between to prevent an all-out binge.
5. Slow down. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness. Put down your fork and talk to your neighbor.
6. Water, Water, Water. We often eat, when we are really thirsty. Drink water before, during and after the meal so you are well hydrated.
7. “Let’s toast the Holidays!” Although it is important to drink liquids, alcohol dehydrates you, acts as an aperitif and loosens your resolve to eat healthfully. Calories really add up – and not just from the alcohol. Studies show that when we drink, we eat almost 20% more than our teetotaling friends. For an easy option, consider a wine spritzer or save the first toast for when the turkey is served, and sip four ounces instead of the usual eight.
8. Go for a walk. Instead of watching football on the couch all afternoon – eating the chips and dips during time outs – why don’t you gather everyone for a long walk? Taking a 45-minute walk could use up almost 250 calories. This is a wonderful holiday tradition you could start. If nothing else, you’re not home eating the leftovers.
9. Talk kindly to yourself. Banish the mantra, “I always gain weight over the holidays.” Instead say to yourself, “I am giving myself the gift of health. I can eat and enjoy any food I want in moderation.” Or as diet Dr. Gullo says, “Thin tastes better.”
10. Enjoy the season of celebration. Remember the holidays are about coming from a place of gratitude. Now especially this year, we have a lot to be grateful for. Treat yourself well with friends, with loved ones and yes, with foods.