Holiday Meals Can Be Healthy As Well As Satisfying

It’s mid-November, and we all know what that means: the holidays are right around the corner — Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year’s.

Quality time with the family, office or school holiday parties and seasonal favorites — who can resist pumpkin pie and eggnog, right? The holiday season brings a wide mix of emotions and stress – both good and bad – and the temptation of nostalgic holiday treats can add yet another concern: holiday weight gain. While eating and merrymaking is both expected and encouraged during these special moments, excessive indulgence can lead to health issues later.

This time of year doesn’t have to be synonymous with weight gain, especially if you approach them with a sound game plan that addresses three important factors to gaining weight: nutrition, fitness and stress management. We’ve compiled a holiday eating game plan with strategies that can help you from gaining those unwanted pounds.

Pre-game tips

*Don’t skip meals – especially breakfast — in anticipation of eating larger holiday meals later on. Research shows people who eat a healthy breakfast tend to consume fewer calories during the day.

*Have a pre-meal. Don’t go to a holiday gathering on an empty stomach. Snack on fruits or vegetables before heading out the door. This will give you a slight feeling of being full, which will help prevent overeating later.

*Plan ahead. Have a plan for self-control, especially when it comes to your most tempting treats. Think ahead about the sights, sounds, aromas and feelings that trigger your personal patterns of overeating, and then make plans to combat these beforehand so they don’t become overwhelming. Practicing awareness and mindful eating can help to reduce the potential for excessive indulgence.

*Manage stress.  Healthline highlights five effective ways to manage stress during the holiday season.

*Go for healthier alternatives.  If you’re preparing or helping to prepare holiday meals, consider using a Smartphone app like Eating Well’s Healthy in a Hurry

Once you are in the game

*Stay Hydrated. Sipping on a glass of cold water or ice throughout the event helps keep you feeling full and staves off the dehydration that comes from eating too many high-sugar, high-salt goodies. Dehydration can actually mimic hunger; tempting you to eat more when in reality, you’re just thirsty.

*Practice portion control. It’s nice to dig into your favorite holiday treats. However, the extra effort required later to work off the calories — or worse, the gaining of unwanted body fat from eating too much — should be reminders for portion control. So, eat what you want, just keep your portions reasonable, chew food slowly and keep return trips to a minimum.  The Smartphone app, MyFitnessPal, is a useful tool to keep and stay on track.

*Size matters! The bigger the plate you are eating from, the more food you are likely to eat. Use smaller plates at the buffet line as they can help with portion control. There is something about seeing an empty plate that helps us feel satisfied whether the container is large or small. That’s why using smaller plates is so effective.

*Be Mindful. Eat food because you’re hungry, not because it’s there. Make a deliberate decision to control so-called recreational eating. Eat with your appetite, not with your eyes. Examine what’s available, and then decide what you really want.

*Eat slowly. The stomach needs about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it’s feeling full. But when food is gulped down, by the time the stomach sends its fullness signal to the brain, you’ve probably already eaten too much food and too many calories. Fill up your plate, eat slowly and then put the brakes on for a while so that your stomach can send its fullness signal to your brain.  For a little more help, try using one of the Smartphone apps that Scoop Nutrition’s Storehouse recommends.

  • Veg out on veggies first. Filling up on healthy, low-calorie, high-fiber vegetables instead of high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt and high-caffeine treats will make you feel full without the drawbacks of dehydration, nervousness, weight gain and overeating.
  • Share the holiday spirit – and your food. Save calories by splitting treats with another person.
  • Enjoy yourself. They don’t call it “the most wonderful time of the year” for nothing! But rather than focusing on food, allow yourself to enjoy the personal relationships, the meaning of the season, personal reflections, renewed spiritual dedication, holiday games, fun and memories you’re blessed to have.
  • Additionally, remember that healthy eating is only half the battle. You also need to stay physically active. Try these easy steps to burn more holiday calories:
  • Maintain or slightly increase your regular exercise program. This will help decrease your appetite, keep your metabolism high and give you a little caloric leeway for those sweet treats.
  • When shopping for holiday gifts, park furthest away from the shopping entrance. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Take a walk after a heavy meal. As tempting as laying on the couch afterward may be, taking a short walk instead will actually help your body digest your food.

Remember the key to winning is a good defense. Following this game plan for healthy eating will help you maintain good physical and mental health while celebrating with friends and family. Happy holidays!

Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES

View posts by Ramon P. Llamas, MPH, CHES
Ramon holds a Masters in Public Health degree with an emphasis on health promotion and health education from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and a BS in biological sciences and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Men's Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association. His background includes health promotion at the US DHHS in Washington, DC and Director of Programs for Men's Health Network.

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