It's that time again—the holiday season. The question on everyone's minds is: how do you make healthy choices during this time of overindulgent eating, parties and family gatherings? Here are a few tips on surviving this wonderful time of the year without feeling like a stuffed turkey afterwards:
Avoid the Carb Coma
Most people think it's the turkey that causes drowsiness after a holiday meal. In fact, it's the large amount of carbohydrate foods eaten in one short period of time that raises levels of serotonin and causes drowsiness. Carbohydrate foods – macaroni and cheese, candied sweet potatoes/yams, corn, the green bean casserole's topping, stuffing, biscuits, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes (just to name a few) – can all easily cause a carb coma. And if you fall asleep after your meal, all those calories you just ate can contribute to weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels, so limit your carb intake and you'll feel better.
Watch Your Portions
You can't expect to avoid your grandmother's pumpkin pie or your aunt's signature dish. But to avoid wearing that pie around your waist for the next two months, it's important to limit how much you eat at one meal. You can choose two courses of action: (1) select a meat, a starch, and a vegetable that you love and simply enjoy those foods or (2) take very small portions of everything to "build your plate." Always forgo second (or third) helpings and skip the side plate used for additional food (and calories). Whatever you do, remember the MyPlate method of portion control (1/4 plate meat, 1/4 plate starch, 1/2 plate vegetables and fruits).
Eat Dessert Responsibly
You've had your full plate of food and you feel good about your choices. Now here come the pies, cookies, cakes, parfaits and chocolates. Something sweet sounds great right about now, doesn't it? Go for it. Just choose a small sliver of pie or cake, one or two cookies, or a small tablespoon of that wafer cookie parfait that you wait all year to eat. There is nothing wrong with enjoying something sweet, but keep it reasonable and in small amounts.
Alcoholic drinks hide a lot of sneaky calories. Mixers and alcohol all contain calories – even tonic water – so refrain from drinking too much. Two servings per day – for men and women – is considered a reasonable amount. One serving = 5 oz. wine, 12 oz. beer, or 1 shot of hard liquor. Drinking excess alcohol can also reduce your inhibitions (which can cause you to go for that second helping you never intended to) and also negatively impact how you metabolize the food you eat.
Maintain Moderation Through the Whole Season
You've likely been invited to a few parties surrounding the holidays. Each of these parties will come with its own smorgasbord. You can choose to (1) say "no" to a few and /or (2) consider these parties as times of complete moderation (see #2 "Watch your portions") and select one food group (meat, starch, vegetable) to enjoy. Your presence will be appreciated no matter what you eat!
Remember that this is a time of family, friends and gratitude. Socializing comes with food, but it doesn't have to be the center of your world. Mingle, have a drink or two, and watch what you eat. By the end of the year, you will have avoided the inevitable weight gain that comes with the holiday season. That is something to be thankful for.