It’s easy to allow ourselves to gradually get off course in our healthy eating habits during the holidays–those six critical weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s—when our willpower is tested and our nutritional standards slowly erode, eventually leading into a lobotomized state of mindless eating. Late nights, delayed flights, excessive imbibing, thoughtless snacking and over-indulgent eating–until we are well-beyond full– will undermine our health by draining our vitality and packing on unwanted pounds. We may drink too much at the office party, grab a cookie for lunch during a hectic day, or intentionally skip breakfast because we know we will soon be indulging in a festive feast. Our nutritional compass goes askew, as we recall our dessert course; you describe it as just a “teeeeeny” slice, as you squeeze your thumb and pointer finger into a pinch that makes your digits turn white. We defer, delay and deny when it comes to being mindful of our habits, until we reach that much-anticipated food coma in January we all come to regret.
With each passing year we promise ourselves “This time will be different; I will plan ahead, I won’t take on too much, I’ll focus on what’s important and I won’t overindulge!”
If this resonates with you, then read on for the top three things you should know before heading into the holidays.
- Set Realistic Expectations: Maintaining your weight (and not dieting) is a reasonable goal for the holidays and will set you up for success by keeping a moderate mindset. The common myth is that people gain an average of about seven pounds over the holidays, however you will be encouraged to know recent research conducted by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has shown Americans typically gain just a couple of pounds over the holidays. However the cumulative effect of this gain over several years results in long-term impact on people’s health because those pounds tend to be permanent. And that’s where our nutritional compass is compromised and our mindset adjusts to accept our fate. Worse still, those extra pounds set us up for disease, such as Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Metabolic Syndrome and yes, even cancer.
- Go easy on the alcohol–Alcohol is a depressant adding unnecessary calories and can cause blood sugar lows (hypoglycemia) even a few days after consumption. Learning to drink in a way that has little effect on your wellness and weight is key; have one beverage (a glass of red wine is considered healthy by many physicians) in place of your carbohydrate at dinner, such as potatoes, rice, pastas or bread, and drink it towards the end of your meal. Aside from the effects on your mental attitude if you over-imbibe, think about the math a moment. Two drinks a day add up to roughly 300 calories, and after only a week of this seemingly benign habit, the extra energy can put about a pound on our frame if you’re not careful. And, of course once our guard is down, that guacamole and chip appetizer will look mighty appetizing, accounting for even more unnecessary calories.
- Be a smart cookie – Holidays are social times, so when attending parties bring a healthy side-dish so you will be certain to have nutritious food you know you can eat—and avoid the calorie dense foods, such as gravy, cheese trays, anything fried or saturated in oily sauces. Some great options to bring are kale salads, grilled seasonal vegetables, or from my book BITE ME! Change Your Life One Bite at a Time, guilt free Maple-Cinnamon Yams or my delicious and gluten-free Polenta Stuffing.
If you have found yourself overindulging, then get moving— Add at least a 30 minute walk to your day to help alleviate stress, clear your mind, and lift your spirits as your brain releases feel-good endorphens. Incorporating daily walks will prevent gaining over three pounds of fat over the six-week period.
Following these tips will keep your nutritional compass from going haywire, provide the foundation for a wholesome, healthy lifestyle and prepare you for a stress-free and fulfilling holiday season!
Toni Julian is an accomplished Health Advocate, Lifestyle and Nutrition Coach, CPT and Author of “BITE ME! Change Your Life One Bite at a Time”.
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