You hear it every year: “The average person gains 10 pounds over the holidays.” Many of us have accepted this as “fact” and resigned ourselves to spending more time in our stretchy pants between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. I mean, who amongst us hasn’t thrown all healthy eating out the window, with the expectation that they will “start fresh” January 1?
This sort of “seasonal binge” can be relatively harmless when you are younger or if you are regularly active. However, if you already have some health risk factors –whether through genetics, age, or a less than stellar lifestyle– this kind of “free-for-all” holiday consumption could take its toll.
As a registered dietitian, I am going to offer you some “professional advice” on how to keep your holiday splurges within reason. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to eat only vegetables instead of those peanut butter thingies with the Rice Krispies and the marshmallows (you know the ones I’m talking about).
I’m also not going to suggest you sip club soda with a “splash of cranberry juice” all night while your family digs into grandma’s double chocolate yule log. (Although if you have that kind of resolve, go for it!).
Here are 4 tips for healthy eating during holidays!
1. Have a backup plan
If you are hosting a holiday get-together, don’t make your guests eat only veggies and fat-free yogurt dip. Sure, this will help YOU stay on a healthy eating plan, but your guests may turn on you. You may even be visited by three ghosts that night who will attempt to exorcise your “Bah Humbug” foodie ways.
It’s ok to have your traditional favorites, but in addition to those, offer a vegetable tray with the low-fat dip, turkey and cheese for protein, and whole-grain crackers.
Instead of high fat cheese or sour-cream-based dips, go for lighter offerings like salsa or Pico de Gallo sauce.
Trail mix for snacking is good too (heavier on the nuts, lighter on the M&Ms).
Your guests will have options and so will you. If you are NOT the host, bring one of these healthier options. (Note: Put a nice big bow on the veggie tray so the sad looking celery looks a teensy bit more “festive,” and you don’t get the “side-eye” from the hostess.)
After you fill your plate with some veggies, turkey, and salsa, you can slice off a piece of grandma’s double chocolate yule log. You have just practiced what we in the industry like to call “moderation.” You had the best of both worlds and you can feel good about that. However, if you encounter people that keep pressuring you to eat more and you don’t want to, I give you permission to lie. Yes, nothing says “Holiday Spirit” like a good old fashioned “white lie.”
Example 1: “Oh, I can’t wait to eat your cream cheese snow balls, Erma! I’m making the rounds down the buffet, I’ll get to it!” or
Example 2: “Did I try your 7-layer dip? I did, and it was fantastic, send me the recipe!”
(Note: If this makes you feel guilty, remember you always have the option of going to Midnight Mass. A spotless soul or pants that don’t fit the next day. Life is a choice)
3. Avoid (stress)
My favorite line from a holiday movie is when Donkey from “Shrek the Halls” says: “My mama used to always say, ‘Christmas ain’t Christmas till somebody cries!” In my experience, no truer words have been spoken.
The holidays are stressful, especially if you are an introvert like me and forced into a small space with large crowds. Now a more enlightened person than I would tell you to find a quiet spot, breathe deeply, clear your thoughts, and meditate before the hub-bub of relatives pounces down upon you.
However, I am not an enlightened person.
Someone else might suggest you hit the spiked eggnog a bit heavily (you know who you are), but I’m not going to do that either.
I would suggest turning on a holiday movie like “Elf” or “A Christmas Story” and encourage others to watch with you. This way you have a reason to focus your attention somewhere else for two hours and still appear to be engaging in a holiday activity.
You could also offer to take the family dog for a walk (yours or the hostess’). This task will allow you some exercise, some time alone, and some much-needed fresh air.
Holiday-themed adult coloring books are good also. Bring a stash and make it seem like a thoughtful, planned event. The crowd will love you. “Hey, look what Nancy did. She brought markers and coloring books. Gather around!” You and the other stressed out people can sit, head down, concentrating on coloring, and getting yourself de-stressed.
4. Embrace your inner Scarlet O’Hara
You may eat healthy over the holidays. You may practice moderation, or you may test the limits of your Lycra stretchy pants. Whatever the result may be, embrace your inner Scarlett O’Hara. As you know, she famously said, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” Do the best you can, and do better tomorrow…or Monday…or who am I kidding…January 1.
(Note: Scarlett O’Hara also famously said “As God is My Witness, I will Never Go Hungry Again!”, but for the purposes of this article, let’s just forget that one for now.)