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How to Handle Holiday Eating from a Consultant Dietitian

Do the holidays give you hives when they should be bringing you happiness? Are you stuck worrying about what you are going to eat instead of making memories with your loved ones? If this is you, fret no more!

Do the holidays give you hives when they should be bringing you happiness? Are you stuck worrying about what you are going to eat instead of making memories with your loved ones? If this is you, fret no more! Read on to discover how you can feel adequately equipped to tackle the holidays in a way where you can both savor your cuisine without feeling like you are restricted and without blowing your diet.

BACK TO BASICS

When it seems like you have an overwhelming amount of options, the best thing you can do is stick to the trusty Plate Method. Start your plate with a 3-4 oz. lean protein, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Fill in the rest with non-starchy vegetables for the best possible plate, beginning with a minimum of ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw. Add in ¼ to ½ cup fruit or grains, making at least half of your grains whole. Choose a side of low-fat or fat-free dairy to round out your plate. Even with a holiday spread, this is possible to do—imagine this as your holiday dinner: a few slices of honey ham, cranberry orange roasted Brussels sprouts, a small sweet potato, and a glass of milk. Of course, you can save room for dessert, because everything in moderation, right? Yum! As long as you are choosing healthful choices for your meals, allow yourself a few treats here and there. The holidays call for a routine different than your normal day-to-day, so it’s okay to go with the flow. Just try not to fall out of the boat! It’s the holidays and you deserve to treat yourself, but don’t let treats completely derail your progress. Be realistic and mindful in your approach.

Another way to make sure you stay on track is to pack nutritious “rescue foods.” If you are running around doing some last minute shopping, you don’t want to have to succumb to the hangry nag nudging you towards the food court or vending machine. Instead, if you have an apple and personal peanut butter or a small bag of nuts packed in your bag or car, you’ll satisfy your appetite and curb any cravings before they’re able to take over.

As we know, it can be easy to get carried away with the smorgasbord of holiday favorites available everywhere, but remember to plan your indulgences. Remember: don’t trade what you want most for what you want in the moment. If you counted up every small nibble you took of this treat here and this treat there, picture how much that would add up over the course of a day or weekend. Munching without thinking about what you’re putting into your body and why makes you ignore your internal cues of hunger and satiety. Do you really even like pecan pie or egg nog, or are you eating them because it’s the holidays and they’re available? Just because it’s limited to a specific time of year doesn’t mean you have to eat it. You can also utilize websites like Pinterest to find smart substitutes for some of your favorite recipes.

Keep in mind physical activity is important as well. You can find fun, new ways to add activity to your day. Join in on community 5Ks, blast some music and dance around the house as you add festive decorations, or take advantage of being with your extended family and create a game of football or capture the flag. Afterwards, you can make cooking and eating extra fun because of the extra people, too. Hold an Iron Chef-type competition between teams of friends or family members to see who can cook the most delicious, creative recipes using leftovers and/or a secret ingredient.

Specific settings present specific challenges. Many of us spend time with friends and family over the holidays, but we also have get togethers in our office and at parties. Let’s dive into how to combat any difficulties that may arise during the holiday season.

DIFFERENT SETTINGS, DIFFERENT TIPS

At Family Gatherings

For some people, family gatherings evoke feelings of happiness and excitement, while other people only feel stress and anxiety. Regardless of how you feel entering a relative’s house, during the holidays, there will usually be large table of food. The best thing you can do during a holiday if you are trying to remain healthy is to find strength in numbers. Sit next to a fellow healthy eater or sidle up to that talkative uncle, because sitting next to him will help you eat more slowly and digest your food better. Surround yourself with supportive people at the table, instead of those who will make you feel bad for trying to make healthy choices. Even if by accident, friends and family members can pressure us into eating something that we want to skip; they may put a scoop on your plate without asking or might expectantly ask if you want to try a spoonful of their world-famous macaroni and cheese. Learning to politely say no is a skill that can be very useful during the holidays. To avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, try making statements such as “That corn pudding looks amazing, but I’m saving room for some of the green beans right there” or “I’m too full to enjoy these cream puffs right now, but could I take a couple home?” and give them to your neighbors. Sometimes we feel like it is our duty to make everyone else feel happy, but it is okay to put ourselves first, especially if it is at our health’s expense.

In anticipation for our favorite foods, it is common for us to “save up for the big meal.” However, skipping meals not only leads to weight stalls and weight gain in the long term, it can also cause overeating in the short term. Eating small meals consistently throughout the day is the best approach to avoid this. It is also smart to wait for all of the food to be on the table before making your selections. You will end up with more of what you actually want, but less overall food, than if you continually fill and refill your plate with each dish that is passed. Using small plates of food helps us eat less, as well. The same amount of food is visually much more appealing on a salad plate than it is on an entrée plate—see the picture to the left. Both plates have the exact same amount of food, but we would likely be more satisfied with this amount of food by eating it from the left plate.

Lastly, keep in mind that just because it is the holiday season, you do not have to stick with the same things you make and eat every year. Be open to new ideas and new food traditions. Instead of turkey with mashed potatoes, ask your family if they want to try something fun and different, such as a chili with cornbread and different types of salad.

In the Office

The office is a place that many people love to share their favorite baked goods and bring their leftover treats. There are ways to combat the urge to constantly indulge yourself. When you feel the temptation arising, first, try something as simple as popping a sugar-free mint or piece of gum in your mouth. The feeling of a fresh palate can stop you from going to get something sugary, which is a substance that causes bad breath. Before you allow yourself a splurge, you can also try walking around the office for five minutes or climb a few flights of stairs to allow yourself the time to realize whether the food you’re thinking about is on impulse or whether it’s actually something that you want.

A way to help decrease the amount of treats in which you indulge is to keep what tempts you in an area that isn’t as highly trafficked. Instead of having foods in the kitchen or break room, consider keeping them in an unused office or on a counter at the end of the hallway. Keep small treats in opaque containers instead of on a plate or in glassware. Out of sight, out of mind.

When you do decide to indulge, next time try using the three bite rule. The first bite is the best, the last bite is the grand finale, and every bite in between is the same. In three bites, you can feel like you are getting the full experience of enjoying a food. Truly savoring those three bites helps decrease overindulgence.

At A Party

Mingling around a table of appetizers is a common occurrence at parties. Everyone wants to be closest to the action, right? Next time you’re at a party, stand more than an arm’s length away from the munchies so you are less likely to raise your hand to your mouth every few minutes while you chat.

Because you cannot control what is in what other people cook, bring your own dish that you know you can eat so that you don’t feel left out. Make enough so that others can enjoy your nutritious creation with you. By giving your dish a seductive name, such as “twisted citrus-glazed carrots” instead of “carrot salad,” it becomes appealing to more people.

Another thing to remember about parties is that alcohol is widely available. While it is okay to enjoy some alcoholic beverages, remember that mixed drinks are usually laden with sugar and calories. Try having a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you have—not only will you feel much more hydrated at the end of the night, but you will also fill up on water and cut your calories from drinking alcohol in half. Pour your drinks into tall, skinny glasses instead of the squat, wide kind. They are more visually appealing and usually allow a smaller volume of liquid, so you feel like you are getting more while in reality are getting less.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mindful eating is at the crux of what makes a healthy holiday successful. Portion control, the plate method, and treating yourself in moderation will help keep you both happy and healthy. But remember, you go to family gatherings, work parties, and other social events to see your loved ones, so see them! Focus on the joy of the holidays by taking the emphasis off of food and presents and instead reconnecting with the ones you love.

RD Nutrition Consultants LLC, is the industry leader in Consultant Dietitian Services Nationwide. We specialize in providing contract Registered Dietitian services in a wide variety of healthcare and wellness organizations.

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