December holidays come but once a year, can’t we let loose a little? Do you really want me to spoil your fun by telling you to eat an apple instead of a piece of buttery shortbread? Or carrot sticks instead of that mouth watering cheese-stuffed puff pastry? Didn’t think so.
Most of us know that spiked eggnog, mini sausage rolls, turkey stuffing and mincemeat pie aren’t diet foods. And if you don’t know this, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of pages on the Internet dolling out holiday eating advice. Eat this, not that. Don’t skip meals to save calories. Fill your plate with veggies first. And so on.
I’m not saying this is bad advice (I’ve given it over and over again), quite the contrary. But aren’t you tired of dietitians like me being a buzz kill? Many people want eating strategies for this time of year. After all, a month’s worth of overeating can spell trouble come January 1st. But not as much as you might think.
Research suggests that healthy weight individuals gain just a little over one pound during the holidays. People who are already overweight tend to gain an average of five pounds. The real issue: this additional pound – or few – tends to accumulate year after year. In other words, what’s most important to weight control is what you do January through November, not at the company holiday party. That said, if your social calendar is jam-packed for the next few weeks you might want a few tactics to help you minimize the damage.
But this year it’s time for holiday eating advice about the “to do’s” versus the “don’t do’s”. I won’t tell you to lay off the fruitcake or how many calories are in a jalapeno popper. Instead, let me tell you how I handle a season that celebrates chocolate, sugar cookies and high fat hors d’oeuvres.
1. I let myself enjoy my favourite holiday foods but I am careful about my food choices especially considering that my busy schedule is preventing me from getting in my regular personal training sessions at the gym. What I will do, however, is fit in a quick cardio workout as often as I can – whether it’s at the gym, on my Stairmaster at home or outside at my cottage on the weekend. I know that even a 20 minute run, power walk or stair climb will burn 200 to 250 calories and reduce my appetite. Plus, I always feel good afterwards. It’s hard for me to rationalize cancelling out that calorie burn by eating two tiny deep-fried hors d’oeuvres. (Unless, of course, it’s something I really love.)
2. That brings me to my next strategy: I am picky. I don’t waste my extra calories on foods that aren’t that special, foods I can have all year round. I will pass on the cheese and crackers, chips and salsa, and so on. Instead I will enjoy a small portion of the holiday treats I enjoy. For me, that means one rum and eggnog (light eggnog if possible), my mother’s melting shortbread cookies, my homemade turkey stuffing, and, I must admit, I will indulge by eating a couple of Swedish meatballs (it’s once a year).
3. When it comes to hors d’oeuvres, I choose ones that pack more protein and help me feel satisfied, (they’re also lower in calories and fat than most other hors d’oeuvres). My picks include chicken satay, shrimp and cocktail sauce (tastes great and only 55 calories for 5 large shrimp), smoked salmon and sushi.
4. I always arrive at a cocktail party or dinner with a little something in my stomach. I make a point of having a healthy snack one hour beforehand. My preferred snacks: yogurt, fruit, a small handful of nuts, raw vegetables and hummus, a latte, or a cup of vegetable or bean soup. If I miss this snack, it’s game over. I arrive hungry and eat more than I intended to.
5. Advanced planning. For me, it’s also important to have a plan of attack. I decide in advance to limit my intake to, say, three little hors d’oeuvres. If dinner follows the cocktail party, I’ll skip the hors d’oeuvres. Easy to do since I’ve eaten a healthy snack just an hour ago. If I choose to drink, I will decide in advance to have one or two glasses of wine. To keep track, I don’t let servers keep re-filling a half empty glass.
When it comes to holiday eating, I am a regular person. I indulge (but don’t overindulge), maintain some level of exercise (but less than usual), and resume my typical routine after the holidays.