Navigating Nutrition During the Holidays

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As the holiday season gains momentum, are you prepared to confront the indulgences and extra calories that may be tempting you?

Story by Ann Butenas

As the holidays approach, you may begin to receive invitations to various parties and gatherings. Conversely, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, large gatherings may not be on the menu this year. Nevertheless, the temptation to indulge and over-imbibe may still be hurdles to overcome. So, whether you are celebrating the holidays at home this year or perhaps gathering with just a few close friends and family members, it is important – now more than ever – to ensure your health and nutrition needs are fully met amidst a season of indulgent foods that may present quite the challenge to the healthy eating habits you wish to maintain. It’s okay to indulge a little; just be sure to plan ahead so you don’t go overboard. Aim for smaller portions and make healthy substitutions when possible.

If you will be spending most of your time at home, at least you have that one advantage in your favor. However, there may still be certain temptations and opportunities for your healthy lifestyle to temporarily derail. As such, it is important to choose your indulgences wisely. If you know you might have some extra goodies around the house this time of year, cut back on your usual indulgences so you can enjoy a bite or two of the fun holiday treats. This way, you can keep your nutritional balance in check. 

If you love to bake and cannot resist trying a new cookie, candy and cake recipes, discipline yourself to keep only enough on hand for one day’s worth of treats for yourself and then share the rest with friends, neighbors, family and co-workers.

If you do go to a party, the buffet is the perfect opportunity to socially distance yourself. After you have filled your plate, move away from the table so you are not tempted to graze or reach for seconds. If something is out of reach, you are less likely to continue to nibble and add on those extra unnecessary calories. The key word is moderation. Yes, you can have dessert, but just enjoy a few bites. A great trick to keep yourself from eating more is to have a mint or chew on a piece of gum. Not only will you freshen your breath, but the mint can actually act as a mild appetite suppressant.

Additionally, you can opt to bring your own healthy dish. If the gathering calls for guests to bring a dish, consider providing a healthy option, such as cucumber cups, a leafy green salad or even a pear almond tart or whole wheat sugar cookies.

What about alcohol? Bear in mind alcohol has added sugar and can also lower your inhibitions, causing you to eat more. If you want a holiday cocktail, then treat it like a dessert instead. (One, please!)

If gaining weight during this time of year is a concern, you have to develop a strategy and then stick to that strategery. A smaller plate, for example, encourages smaller portions. And when you fill your plate, start with vegetables and salad before you head straight for the sweet treats. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite. Before you opt for seconds, wait about 10 minutes or so to see if you are really hungry. Fruits and vegetables tend to make you feel fuller longer, so you won’t be as quick to grab the less healthy options.

Even though you may be tempted to skip meals before that holiday party or feast, don’t. Skipping meals prior to the main event can cause you to overeat. That old notion of eating breakfast every day holds true, especially if it includes fiber from fruits and whole grains. Fiber-rich foods are lower in calories and will keep you satisfied for longer periods of time. The last thing you want to do is go to that dinner party with a ravishing appetite that is out of control.

Be sure to stay active during the holiday season, too. Go on a family walk together after dinner.  Put on some music and dance around the living room. Spend time in the backyard playing catch with your kids or get out on the driveway and shoot some hoops. Just move. Make a commitment to get some exercise every day.

Americans tend to gain about one or two pounds during the holiday season. This may not seem too dramatic on the surface, but over the years, those pounds can quickly add up. If you approach the indulgent holiday season with a plan in mind, you will be less likely to pack on those extra pounds and can maintain a healthy nutritional balance that will help you transition into the new year on the right track.

Sources:  nm.org, heart.org, and eatright.org

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