Written By: Erin Burke, MS, RD, LDN
The holidays can be challenging among those trying to lose or maintain weight. Holiday parties, starting from October and lasting until January, are around every corner with sweet treats enticing even the most diligent dieter. With this indulgent season followed by health-focused New Years’ Resolutions, it is no wonder we are so overwhelmed and conflicted when it comes to our food choices! Check out the following practical tips to keep your holiday season healthy and balanced while enjoying your favorite treats.
Stay Active. Incorporating regular physical activity and intentional exercise can help manage stress and keep you feel balanced and strong throughout the season. If you find it nearly impossible to get some exercise in, do your best to incorporate movement throughout the day. For example, go shopping at the store instead of buying online, and take multiple trips to carry groceries and other shopping bags into the house.
Eat regular, balanced meals. If there is ever a time to start eating three regular meals and snacks, it is now! Going into a holiday party on an empty stomach is a surefire way to eat anything and everything in sight. Eating regular meals fuels you to make healthful and intentional food choices.
Watch out for sugar in seasonal drinks. There is nothing wrong with enjoying some sweetened food and drink. In fact, the American Heart Association even allows for some daily wiggle room when it comes to added sugar. It is recommended that women stick to 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day (24 grams, 100 calories), and men up to 9 teaspoons (36g, 144 calories). However, recognize that many seasonal coffee drinks can add up to several tablespoons of sugar in one portion. For example, a Grande salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks provides 65 grams of sugar, or about 5 tablespoons. This is more than what you get in a standard slice of chocolate cake! While a healthy body can handle the occasional sugar bomb, regular consumption may leave you feeling the physical and mental effects of a sugar crash.
Monitor alcoholic drinks. Give yourself a limit on alcoholic drinks, and keep track of how many you have had. Alcohol itself can have negative health effects, and there is often added sugar and calories in mixers. If you have more than one drink, try making them half strength (if you are in control of this). Choose lighter options such as light beer (90-120 calories, dry wine 120 calories), or 1.5 oz vodka mixed with seltzer water and lime (64-80 calories). Alternatively, you can dilute wine and punches with seltzer water to make a spritzer. Remember to sip water in between drinks to stay hydrated.
Do not arrive hungry to holiday parties. Try to have a snack before you head to a party. This will take the edge off your hunger and give you a chance to survey the spread and figure out what looks best.
Eat what you love and savor it. Give yourself the freedom to eat what you love! When we label our favorite foods as “bad” or off-limits, it increases our attention to them. So let yourself enjoy the treats, and make sure you eat them with no distractions.
Eat leftovers. It is common to feel pressured to eat everything at once to get it out of the house. Theoretically, this will reduce the temptation later. The next time you have this thought, give yourself permission to enjoy leftovers. Think about how you could turn them into a balanced meal later on. For example, pairing a poached egg and fresh herbs with some leftover stuffing. If you have a ton of leftover Christmas cookies, try freezing them! Doing so means that a month from now you can enjoy a home-made Christmas cookie. Who cares if it’s well into January?
Stay mindful. While socializing, it is easy to unknowingly snack if standing near the appetizer or dessert buffet. Make an effort to put any snacks on a small appetizer plate. This will help you make more intentional choices when it comes to food and monitor your portions. Once finished with your plate, move to a different part of the room.
Reduce Stressor. When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, as well as a rise in blood sugar and an increase in insulin resistance. This cascade of events is helpful if we need to physically run away from our problems! However, high stress can contribute to complications such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease in our overworked, busy lives. Do your best to reduce stressors, control what you can, and let the little things go. Ask yourself-will this matter a year from now?
Enjoy family and friends. Remember: this is what the holidays are all about! Write down three things you are grateful for read them every day. This will help you start the day off with a healthy mindset.