With Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and other holiday celebrations in sight, it’s time to discuss holiday eating strategies that work at holiday gatherings. It’s not about having a holiday diet, so much as about having strategies for eating during the holidays that keep you on track with the lifestyle choices you’ve already made.
For example, if you’ve decided to reduce sugar, you know you’re going to be surrounded with an atypical amount of sweet temptations. If you’ve been off sugar for a while and are past the major sugar cravings of the first couple of weeks of quitting sugar, you may choose to go out of your way to skip any sweetened treats. This isn’t because a few treats will be a big problem – it’s more a matter of consciously picking and choosing delicacies that won’t re-trigger sugar addiction and force you to go through another withdrawal phase.
Perhaps, for example, you really enjoy good cheeses, so you decide that you’ll focus your “treats” in that area, and avoid the sweets. Don’t forget that there are delicious gourmet treats that are also healthy – a few examples include grilled shrimp, smoked fish, grilled fruit, excellent coffee, dark chocolate.
Two Keys To Planning For Holiday Feasts
- Think about how you want to handle holiday eating in advance. It’s much easier to get where you’re going when you have a plan.
- Don’t forget to enjoy spending time with your friends and family. This isn’t a time for worry or fear, and I don’t want to advocate diet paranoia here. A little common sense goes a long way, and a couple of extra treats for one or two days won’t “break” your weight loss progress.
Be Cautious of Holiday Eating Tips
That said, there’s lots of bad advice out there. Many articles you’ll see at this time of year tout choosing low fat options. Beware of anything low-fat and read the label. The majority of low-fat foods these days have significant amounts of added sugar, and sugar is a more serious enemy when you’re struggling with overweight than fat will ever be. Sure, we want to avoid bad fats, but avoiding sugar is paramount, since we know we can’t lose weight or keep it off while eating significant amounts of sugar.
For example, you’ll be warned of the calories in alcoholic drinks, and certainly that’s valid. However, we know “a calorie is a calorie” isn’t fact when it comes to dieting. If you’re going to drink alcohol, make a plan. If you’ve chosen to drop gluten, remember most beers are made with wheat. You can get good-tasting gluten-free beer, but you’ll have to plan ahead and bring your own.
If you plan to drink hard liquors, the sugar in the pop or juices used in mixes can be challenging. A glass or two of wine might be your best choice. A five ounce glass of white wine has 100 calories, but the sugar is limited, and there’s no mix.
Being the designated driver is always a good alternative. If you can’t be content with drinking water, try a couple of ounces of juice in a large glass of sparkling water over ice, or bring a calorie/sugar free drink mix such as MIO. While a product with artificial sweeteners may not be a perfect choice, sometimes it’s about making a better choice that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived.
Some of the generic holiday diet tips are fine, even helpful, of course; small plates, skinny glasses, smaller portions, eat slowly, choose healthier foods more often, choose small amounts of sauces/gravies/whipped cream, never letting yourself get hungry, etc. However, it’s the bigger strategies that will make the most difference.
Four Key Holiday Eating Strategies
- If you don’t love it, don’t eat it
- Indulge a little, but not in sugars. Sugar is the enemy.
- Plan ahead.
- Make conscious choices.
If you’re going out to a holiday event, some advance planning helps. There are three things you can do before you leave home to make it easier to avoid adding pounds over the holidays.
- Eat something with high fiber before leaving home.
- Take along a nutritious snack.
- Bring something healthy to share – for example, if you’ve chosen to eat gluten-free, bringing some gluten-free appetizers or treats gives you something to eat at the party, and you can share with friends.
Holiday Dieting Tips for Shopping
- Never go shopping when you’re hungry.
- Plan ahead for meals so that you don’t end up in a fast food restaurant.
- Know your triggers. Skipping the candy isle or bakery section can be a good choice.
- Treats are okay at this time of year – but choose healthier ones, in limited quantities.
Holiday Eating Tips For Work
- Bring a healthy dish (or salad) to an office potluck.
- Move office treats out of sight of your workstation – you don’t need to be tempted by a box of truffles on your desk.
- Make sure that office lunches or dinners out are at a restaurant with healthy menu choices available.
- Keep healthy snacks at the office.
Eat the Best, Leave the Rest
The holidays are a wonderful time to practice conscious eating. First, realize that you can choose to focus on quality over quantity. There’s no shortage of food for most of us at this time of year, so be selective and reassure yourself that you can always return for more if you find something that’s really wonderful.
Conscious eating means getting all of your senses involved. Choose to enjoy the visual presentation of the food. Notice the composition of the food display. Enjoy the forms, colors, contrasts, and the decorative accents. Focus for a moment on the smells, both of the room in general, and of the bite you’re about to consume. Take a bit on your tongue and feel the texture. If you had to bite off a piece, notice the crunch or feeling of the bite. Feel the texture. Notice the taste in different areas of your mouth. Look for salty notes, sweet ones, unexpected flavors. Your tongue has receptors for different flavors in different areas. Notice them.
Did you know there are five qualities of taste, including sourness, bitterness, sweetness, saltiness, and a recently discovered protein taste quality called umami, which has been described as a “pleasant savory” taste? When you bring conscious eating to a holiday buffet or table, you can transform the experience from a gluttonous gobble that leaves you unpleasantly stuffed, to a multi-sensory discovery of the best the table has to offer.
Healthy Holiday Eating
One thing to remember is that healthy holiday eating doesn’t have to be boring or spartan, especially when you are doing the entertaining. It’s possible to serve your guests delicious soups, creative salads, savory dips combined with organic gluten-free crackers, fresh fruit and vegetable canapes, main dishes full of flavor – and all of them healthy choices. Here’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce your friends and neighbors to really healthy food that is utterly delicious. Even sweets aren’t off limits – search your cookbooks or the internet for recipes for Bliss Balls or Black Bean Brownies, dip some fresh fruit in dark chocolate, or offer up baked apples or roasted plums.
With a little creativity and the help of some recipes from the web, you can offer up a holiday feast that’s delicious and healthy, too.
Avoid Self Sabotage (Other People’s Too)
This is a prime time of year for emotional eating and self-sabotage. All kinds of family stuff can come up, and it’s easy to take yourself off track, particularly when you’ve already lost noticeable amounts of weight. Family members and acquaintances that you don’t see often may deliberately try to tempt you away from your dedication to your goal of losing weight.
Be extra aware of your choices, and don’t beat yourself up over a bad one, just correct and continue. Your plan is to launch the new year healthier, slimmer, and happier, and that’s more important than any holiday treat.
All of us here at dietMD Hawaii wish you and yours a very happy (and healthy!) holiday season!