Food plays an important role in many holiday celebrations, family gatherings and cultural traditions. We often can’t wait to overindulge in our favorite holiday treats. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, the average American gains seven to 10 pounds.
According to experts, much of what our holiday diets are centered around is the idea that this time of year only comes around once and thus we can easily adjust our diets after Jan. 1. Or, that overindulging is just fine because your New Year’s resolution involves a strict diet and workout regimen.
However, anticipation of food restrictions can cause “binge-like” eating habits that are harder to break when trying to return to normal eating habits or starting a restrictive diet.
Experts suggest not avoiding holiday celebrations entirely, but instead being prepared and making a plan for yourself at these gatherings. For example, if a meal features a variety of fried foods, only chose one instead of the whole spread, or try eating a light and healthy snack before going to the party to help curb your appetite.
“Part of successful weight management involves training ourselves to think like a healthy person. When we overindulge in food or drinks, or binge, we reinforce unhealthy ways of thinking,” said Peggy Spohr, clinical dietitian for Wishard Health Services. “By practicing moderation over the holidays, we become better at managing the celebrations that are upon us now, and we make the next one less of a challenge.”
In addition, alcohol also can be a part of high caloric intake during the holidays. Some mixed drinks can contain as many as 450 calories per glass. However, if you do choose to drink, there are plenty of low calorie beers and wines available to choose from, and dietitians suggest limiting your intake to one or two alcoholic drinks per occasion. They also recommend avoiding alcohol before meals as it can stimulate your appetite.
“By delaying changes until later, or by thinking we can only begin new habits once a year, we minimize the importance of the ultimate goal and end up perhaps not fulfilling it at all. This may contribute to lower self-esteem and reduced motivation to make the healthy changes we want in our lives,” explained Spohr.
Other hints for healthy holiday eating include:
n Avoid sitting near buffet tables, and always use a plate for foods you select rather than nibble as you go by so you don’t lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
n When you do select a special food, eat it and enjoy it rather than hiding it from your family and friends to avoid feelings of shame.
n Go for a brief walk after a meal or party to help you regroup and promote healthy digestion.
n Make realistic decisions about how and when to change your eating habits. Going on a crash diet as part of a New Year’s resolution can slow down your metabolism, increase stress and anxiety, and make you more susceptible to weight re-gain. Avoiding meal skipping to save up calories for an event – you are more likely to overeat.
The main rule to remember during the holidays, or anytime of the year is moderation and balance. Experts recommend talking to your doctor or a registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about eating healthy.