'Tis the season for overeating.
The weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year's are filled with lots of social gatherings and food festivities. Food is everywhere, whether the office party, family events, buffets, cocktail parties or holiday candy gifts. It is also a stressful time for many people which, in and of itself, can lead to additional overeating.
With some advance planning, and smart pointers, however, you can come out healthier and more rejuvenated, and maybe even a few pounds thinner in time for the New Year.
To help you avoid gaining weight this season and reduce "food-related" stress, below I offer strategies that I've successfully used with clients in my talks and nutrition counseling practice. I invite you to try incorporating them into your daily routine.
1. Plan your day.
Part of the reason we overeat is that we do not pay much attention to what we are going to eat. We forget to eat, wait till we are famished and then overeat, or just grab whatever we can find when on the run. I suggest trying to map out your day in the morning and thinking about some of the healthy food choices you can make. For example, if you are going to a dinner party, plan for a healthy snack an hour or two before you go so that you are not starved when you arrive. If you are going out to lunch or dinner, view the menu in advance so you can get an idea of what you may want to order.
2. Eat healthy most of the time.
This is not a time to begin a diet. Or to ban your favorite foods. My suggestion for this holiday season is to pick a few foods that you absolutely love and legalize them, that is, allow yourself to include them, sans the guilt. The key is not eating them all at once. Plan for one treat a day and this way you will have something to look forward to.
3. Downsize your portions.
What I love about practicing portion control is that you can still eat what you love, just less of it, which will help you trim calories. You also do not have to say no entirely. For example, if your family is going to your favorite steakhouse, instead of not joining them, allow yourself to sharing a steak and order an extra portion of vegetables. Instead of saying to yourself "I need to cut out all alcohol," allow yourself to include an occasional glass of wine with dinner. I offer additional portion-control tips here and here.
4. Swap and substitute.
I am a big fan of swapping out unhealthy foods for healthier ones. As a nutritionist, instead of telling clients not to eat this or that, providing them with healthy options helps to empower them to make smarter choices. Healthy substitutions allow you to give something up while including something else so that you do not feel deprived. Swap out refined grains for whole grains instead of cutting out grains entirely. For example, choose quinoa over white rice, if possible. You can also incorporate smart substitutions at home. Try using Greek yogurt or applesauce to cut some of the butter in your favorite recipe.
5. Drink more water.
Drinking water regularly will keep you hydrated. So often, we think we are hungry, but we really are just thirsty. I recommend including water, seltzer or herbal tea to keep you hydrated. Fruits and vegetables, along with vegetable-based soups also count toward fluid. Skip the soda and juice, and go easy on alcohol and caffeinated beverages. I suggest keeping a water bottle on your desk or in your brief case. It will serve as a great reminder to drink up!
6. Spice up your favorite dish.
I love recommending spices for several reasons. Spices offer up a multitude of health benefits, ranging from containing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, to acting as antioxidants and warding off disease. Also, when you incorporate spices into your diet, you tend to use less sugar and salt, which is a good thing. Spices are simple to keep on hand and don't take up much space. Instead of adding sugar to your coffee, try using cinnamon; instead of sprinkling salt on your eggs, try turmeric.
7. Include a fruit or a vegetable at each meal.
Many of us fail to eat enough produce. Fruits and veggies contain lots of fiber as well as vitamins A and C, folate, and potassium. They are also relatively low in calories. Make an effort to add fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. Add berries to your yogurt, choose a salad with lunch or order a veggie-based soup, munch on baby carrots as a snack, and include a colorful assortment of veggies at dinner. Engage your kids and make a smoothie as an evening snack. The fruit and veggie servings quickly add up.
And here's an added benefit--when you eat plenty of fruits and veggies, you tend to eat less junk food.
8. Keep moving.
Even though this is a busy time of year, trying to incorporate some kind of exercise will really help you to not only keep your eating--and weight--in check but also to help you stay centered. Go for a swim or a run in the morning to get you going or go to a yoga class to help you slow down and be more mindful. Weather permitting, it's great to exercise outdoors in nature. Call a friend and go for a walk in the park.
9. Practice gratitude.
Being grateful for your life and all of the good things going your way is so important. While things can always be a bit better, it is so important to take time out and have a grateful heart.
10. Enjoy the company of family and friends.
Last but not least, instead of focusing on food, nurture your relationships. When getting together with family and friends, savor their company, and enjoy catching up with them. At a dinner party, take a portion of food, grab your loved one, and focus on filling each other in on what has been going on in your lives.
We would love to hear your favorite holiday survival tips.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy--and healthy--holiday season!