We face the holidays with great intentions. This year, we tell ourselves, we’ll play it safe: We’ll stay diet wise and pound shrewdish. But soon, endless holiday parties and sweet treats wear down our willpower. What begins as a nibble morphs into grazing, and little by little, we fall down that precarious but oh so palatable rabbit hole.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that Americans typically gain almost a pound every holiday season. What’s more, most of us may never lose that extra weight.
What is it about the holidays that makes us reach for the sweet stuff time and time again? Angela Pifer, a certified nutritionist at Nutrition Northwest, says the added pressures of the holiday season play a role. “Emotions run high during the holidays. As much as we love our families, they can be emotional triggers. When you couple this with plentiful sweets, the combination can easily lead us offtrack.”
The comforts of food and family gatherings keep everyone munching throughout the days — and tossing reason right out the window.
Staying on a healthy path isn’t easy, Pifer says. Thinking “the new year is just around the corner” gets us into the mind-set that our healthy habits will get back on track tomorrow. But by acknowledging a holiday is a one- or two-day event and not a season-long eatathon, you can keep your holiday noshing in check. Just pick and choose your times to indulge.
A poor decision or two shouldn’t send you into a spiral of shame. What matters is the amount and types of food you’ll be eating over several days. Pifer encourages clients to make their choices count. For instance, a processed chocolate milk shake may satisfy your sweet tooth, but won’t compare to the quality and flavor of a real dark chocolate truffle. Simply finding ways to choose real whole foods makes healthy eating easier than people think, she says.
The key is avoiding the pitfalls of high-sugar and high-fat foods, Pifer says. Office break rooms and holiday parties are temptation central. Be reasonable and keep the healthy habits you’ve worked year-round to build at the forefront of your mind. “Show up feeling somewhat fed and ready to be social, versus being famished and ready to eat,” she suggests.
Food and social gatherings go hand in hand. Join the fun and the festivities, but make those interactions with family and friends — not what’s on the buffet table — your focus.
10 ways to play it smart during the holidays
1. Be realistic. Don’t set a strict diet for yourself just because you’re afraid of holiday weight gain. Simply be aware of the foods you’re eating and maintain healthy eating habits.
2. Control your portion size. You can enjoy your favorite foods, but in moderation.
3. Beware of the buffet. Scan your options first and then build a balanced plate.
4. Slow down. Your family may be on the go, but take the time to prepare whole foods and avoid the fast-food trap.
5. Sweat it out with the family. Find moments to get up and move, whether it’s a midday walk or an energetic game on Wii.
6. Spread the health. Bring a healthy dish to a potluck. Others will appreciate it, and you’ll know one healthy option is available.
7. Mix and mingle. Socialize at holiday parties and don’t camp out near the food table.
8. Start the day off right. Eat a lean, balanced breakfast and protein-packed snacks throughout the day to keep you full and energized.
9. Balance your meals out. Load your plate with fruits and veggies first to ensure you’re still getting the nutrients your body needs.
10. Keep hydrated. Start your meals with a full glass of water. If drinking alcoholic beverages, alternate with a glass of water and avoid drinks high in sugar.
Sources: betterhealthusa.com; Angela Pifer, Nutrition Northwest