Edited Dec. 2016 (Originally published December 2015)
It's mid-December and I may not be exaggerating when I say that this month, I've consumed as many calories from crackers, cheese and wine as I've consumed from all other foods collectively. Yikes. Such is the nature of the holiday season. This article seems to get circulated every year and is based on one of my most popular end-of-year seminar topics, "Holiday Eating: The Survival Guide." While these tips might seem obvious, a little reminder never hurt anyone. Happy holidays!
Normally, I prefer to focus on nutrients, not calories, but the holidays are an exception. Here's why:
Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and of course, dessert – it all adds up to about 3,000 calories in ONE meal! That’s significant when you consider that an extra 3,500 calories will cause you to gain one pound of fat. Maybe it isn’t quite enough to tip the scales, but Christmas is not just one day or one meal.
It begins with the Thanksgiving feast and the leftovers, holiday parties, colleagues bringing leftover desserts to work, chocolate truffles handed out at the mall, fast food while shopping for gifts, family dinners, cookies and baking and more. It all adds up.
In fact, we eat an average of 300 additional calories every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That translates to 5 or 6 extra pounds by January! To help you avoid the weight gain, here are some Holiday Do’s & Don't’s:
DO: Stock up on supplements before the holiday chaos begins
DON’T: Take them on an empty stomach
First things first…
Don’t skimp on your vitamins during the holidays. The excess calories, most of them empty, create a need for even more nutrients.
The important supplements to have on hand throughout the holiday season include:
Vitamin B complex. B vitamins help you manage holiday stress. A B-complex supplement taken with meals supplies the vitamins necessary to make brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help you stay alert during the day, sleep well at night, and feel less overwhelmed/more in control during stressful times. Food sources include dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans and lentils. Ensure that your meals also include protein (needed to make neurotransmitters) and magnesium.
Vitamin D3 is key this time of year, especially because of the lack of direct sun exposure. It helps to boost your mood and immunity during this time of over indulging.
Probiotics help combat the effects of excess sugar consumption during the holidays so that you aren’t left with uncontrollable sugar cravings in January. Sugary cookies, egg nog, desserts, alcohol, bread, and all the starchy carbs we eat over the holidays feed the scary microbes in the gut that can lead to cravings, yeast infections, inflammation, a bad mood, weight gain and other undesirable symptoms. Feast instead on probiotic-rich fermented foods and take probiotic supplements daily. Beans have been shown to increase the microbial strain that promotes a healthy weight. Make smoothies with plain kefir instead of your usual milk. Add fermented veggies (like sauerkraut or DIY fermentations) to salads, sauces, meat dishes or as a side dish.
Digestive enzymes. Taking one or two digestive enzymes before a big meal helps your stomach digest a meal. As a result, you’ll feel lighter and more energized after eating. The best part is, enzymes help prevent the bloating and gas that often accompany a large meal.
DO: Plan your calories & strategy
DON’T: Get caught unprepared
A little preparation goes a long way – even during the holidays. When you know you're going to indulge for dinner, plan your other meals carefully and monitor your food intake.
If you think you might consume more than 800 calories in one sitting, eat small protein- or fiber-rich meals throughout the rest of the day. For example, drink a green juice with added protein or a smoothie for breakfast and eat a lighter lunch so you can prepare to splurge for the night out. Low glycemic foods like oatmeal with fresh berries or a bowl of quinoa with tuna are also great options. Since they metabolize slowly, you'll feel fuller longer.
Most importantly, avoid any unnecessary and unhealthy snacking during the day.
At the dinner party, how will you respond when you’re asked if you want seconds or you’re offered foods and drinks that you’d rather not have (without launching into a nutrition lecture)? Write your answers down in a journal or make a sign for your refrigerator or wallet to remind you of your strategy!
DO: Eat before a party
DON’T: Save your appetite
A small, fiber- or protein-rich snack eaten before heading out the door will help you control your nibbling at a party. Suggestions: apple slices topped with nut butter or half a cup of Greek yogurt.
DO: BYOF (Bring your own food)
DON’T: Hope for the best
If appropriate, bring your own dish to a holiday event. It's a foolproof method of ensuring that you'll have at least one delicious, healthy option that you actually like. Don’t hope that there is something healthy on the menu – often that isn’t the case.
At a sit-down dinner…
Make your first helping a small one. That way, if you’re expected to take seconds the total amount will be about the same as a normal-size portion.
Fill up on fiber first: Eating a raw salad of mixed greens before each meal – or as a meal – fills your tummy (fiber!) and promotes good digestion. Green vegetables also supply nutrients that may be harder to come by over the holidays: vitamins, minerals, roughage, and enzymes. Steamed greens help to prevent constipation and are an excellent source of minerals.
The 20-minute Rule: Eat slowly, chew each bite carefully. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to realize that you’re no longer hungry (that’s not the same thing as feeling full!). Also, hold off on seconds for at least twenty minutes. Still hungry? Have a few more bites.
If the meal is buffet-style…
DO: Be a picky eater at the buffet
DON’T: Try to taste everything
Take just 1 trip to the buffet and be selective! Try only the foods you really want. Take only 1 bite or 1 tbsp. portions of each food, and then move your socializing away from the buffet table. In fact, studies show that if you aren’t facing the buffet table, you won’t be as tempted to go back for more food.
DO: Donate or throw out leftovers
DON'T: Feel the need to eat leftovers just because they’re in your house
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with leftovers:
While guests are mingling, pack leftovers in “doggie bags” for them. If you get the leftovers out of the house, you won’t eat them later on.
If you’re stuck with trays of cookies and other sweets, don’t bring them to work! Your co-workers are in the same boat you are in. They don’t need any more tasty temptations.
Donate them to a food bank. If you can’t take leftover treats to a food bank right away, freeze them (at the bottom of your basement freezer where you won’t see them each time you open the door!) and drop them off later. Food banks likely have an abundance of holiday treats around Dec. 25, anyway, and will appreciate a later delivery.
Throw them away! There is nothing wrong with discarding unhealthy food. Better in the food composter than in your belly (or in someone else’s), where they will wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and add to belly fat.
DO: Stay hydrated
DON’T: Drink your calories
Each gram of alcohol provides 7 calories! A 12 oz. serving of beer loads on an extra 150 calories, and each 5 oz. glass of wine adds 90 calories. Cocktails made with soda – a whopping 200 calories!
Worse than that, alcohol on an empty stomach will stimulate your appetite and raise your blood sugar levels. Always pair alcohol with some protein (this is why we have wine & cheese parties!).
Drink a glass of water for every serving of alcohol, and nurse your drink as long as you can. If you drank more alcoholic beverages than you should have, drink two or three large glasses of water or an electrolyte drink before bed to prevent a hangover. A hangover is partially the result of dehydration.
DO: Stay active
DON'T: Use the holidays as an excuse for inactivity
No time for the gym? No problem. Try interval training at home (you’ll find all sorts of HIIT videos on YouTube). The time commitment is small but the results are great! Encourage your friends to join you in seasonal activities that don’t involve food, like a night out dancing, mall walking before the stores open, skiing, ice skating or bowling. Every little bit of activity counts. Break movement into short spurts throughout the day for convenience and to take advantage of the afterburn effect.
This article is based on the seminar, "Healthy Holiday Eating: The Survival Guide." For more information or to offer this workshop at your company, email me: Lisatsakos@Rogers.com