If you are like me, you will be spending 90 percent of your energy from today until January 1 repeating the words “choose the apple … choose the apple” because you know what processed flour and sugar does to your limbic system. It’s not pretty. Which is why I asked Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, to share with us some tips for healthy eating during the holidays. Here she is!
The holidays are a time of tradition and ritual, the time spent with loved ones, the feelings of connectedness, the memories, the giving, the celebration of the human spirit makes this time of year magical.
The key is to preserve the tradition and avoid the binge. This is the season to splurge — not on endless trays of fudge and cookies, but rather on the real meaning of the holidays — enjoying the company of others. That means putting food in its place. At parties, make food secondary to visiting with new and old friends; circle the room, not the buffet table. Nurture the spirit of giving by planning parties, gifts, and time around loved ones, not around eating. Instead of a sit-down gorge session, appetizer trays the size of the White House Christmas tree, or batches of cookies to feed an army, invite family and friends over at a non-eating time such as mid-afternoon or late evening. Serve a beverage and a few low-calorie snacks to compliment:
When it comes to food, giving into temptation is a sure-fire way to leave you whimpering on the scale or feeling deprived come New Year’s Day. Rather than the all-or-nothing approach to the holidays, approach this season well-armed with a specific plan.
1. Sit down with yourself and deciding ahead of time what you will and won’t eat. Maybe you’ll decide to avoid some items, such as the whipped cream on the pie or the egg nog, while setting a limit on favorite foods. You can have those traditional foods that make the holidays special, like the potato latka or the mincemeat pie at a family get together, just keep the total day around 2,000 calories, rather than blowing out at 4,000 calories. You also can establish a trade-off system where you decide to have three pieces of a co-worker’s homemade fudge at the office party this afternoon in exchange for avoiding desserts for the next three days.
2. Keep your eating schedule on track. Many people skip meals in an effort to save calories this time of year. Big mistake. This plan backfires and inevitably increases cravings and lowers resistance later in the day, which can lead to overeating at holiday festivities Instead, keep yourself on schedule by stocking the kitchen with low-fat munchables and eating a nutritious light breakfast and lunch the day of a social event.
3. Remember to eat consciously and only when you’re hungry. You’ll save 100s of calories if you don’t graze unconsciously, eat while cleaning up the kitchen, or nibble while talking. While fatigue, emotions, expectations, and stress are high during the holidays, eating more than you want or need won’t bring you closer to a friend, calmer at a party, or more energetic.
4. Be aware of your emotional state when you’re eating during the holiday. The holidays bring with them a wealth of emotions, both good and bad, and some people turn to food to sooth their feelings. Family reunions can be a mixture of joy and conflict, expectations for the holidays can lead to disappointments and loneliness, and even the stress of preparing for the holidays can evoke memories that are both sad and happy. Talk through, rather than eat through, those feelings. Often just telling a friend that the holidays are a hard time for you can help relieve the pressure and reduce unwanted eating.
5. Finally, take your time at the buffet table to check out the offerings. Then fill the plate with fresh vegetables, melon slices or other fresh fruit, salads with low-fat dressing, and lean slices of meat. That way you can have small samplings of the higher-fat festive foods, but won’t be tempted to overdo it.
Of course, you also need to put this food thing in perspective. The greatest gift at the holidays isn’t the buffet table, the fruitcake, or the champagne, it’s the conversations, the comraderie, and the laughter enjoyed with friends and family. So when possible, plan parties around holiday activities that nourish your soul and build memories, but that don’t call for food, such as carolling, tree trimming get-togethers, skating or sledding, or strolling with friends through the neighborhood to see the decorations.