Holiday parties have begun and dining out in restaurants, eating appetizers, and having celebratory dinners is in full swing.
There is no need to stress out about weight gain and how to stick to a plan. Simply follow my quick and easy survival guide below and enjoy this wonderful time of year with food, family and friends!
1. Ditch the sugar and refined flours. White flours and white sugars “ring” the insulin bell in your body and tend to promote cravings, weight gain, belly fat storage and fatigue. While I realize it is impossible to avoid white sugar and flour all together, try to minimize the amount you eat.
As you will see below in my additional healthy holiday eating tips, there are several other whole grain flours and natural sugar substitutes such as coconut sugar and/or fruits that can do the trick.
2. Play the protein game. Protein facilitates the release of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon has an opposing action to insulin and thereby keeps blood sugars in check and cravings and hunger at a lower level. Eating 3-5 ounces of quality protein per meal (eggs, fish, chicken, protein powder, hemp hearts, turkey, yogurt) will keep you fuller longer, helping you to make sensible nutritional choices.
3. Eat good fat to lose! In addition to eating protein, consuming “good fats” is another great way to avoid hunger and blood sugar bounces. I recommend always having grab and go nuts and seeds on hand as a quick “go to” snack option. Examples of other healthy fats you can have throughout the day include:
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp. of sesame seeds
- 10-15 almonds or walnuts
- 1/4 of an avocado
- 40 pistachios
- 1 tbsp. of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of almond, peanut or cashew butter
4. Don’t skip meals. While it may make sense mathematically to skip breakfast or lunch to save on calories for a big meal at night, I assure you, it backfires each and every time. Try eating a light breakfast and lunch option (i.e. protein smoothie, yogurt parfait, sliced meat with vegetables, egg white omelet) prior to going to your festivities to avoid food and alcohol bingeing.
5. Practice portion control. If all else fails and you do not have the types of food that you normally eat available to you, practice portion control. Eat smaller amounts of foods, be mindful and eat slowly to allow your stomach to register a “full” sensation in your brain.
6. Slow it down. It takes your brain a full 20 minutes to register a “full” sensation. Make your meals last longer by chewing your food and enjoying every single bite. Sips of water between bites also helps to slow down your food intake curbing the desire to go over indulge on seconds.
7. Listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, fatigued or bloated after your big holiday party, it is time to lighten up a bit the next day. Stick to light soups, vegetables, fruits and protein options and be sure to drink plenty of water and/or herbal tea.
8. Watch alcohol consumption. An excess amount of alcohol can cause fatigue, weight gain and over eating. But let’s be honest, shall we? The holidays are the time of year when alcohol is at an all-time high. Try to avoid higher calorie beverages such as eggnog (1 cup = 340 calories and 20 grams of sugar) and sugary cocktails (margaritas = up to 450 calories per serving) and substitute with lower calorie options such as a white wine spritzer (1/2 wine and 1/2 club soda) and/or light beer.
9. Work it baby, work it! When you do over do it at a holiday party, make your workout a little longer and harder the very next day. Examples of calories burned for 30 minutes of activity include:
- Biking: 286 calories
- Jogging: 250 calories
- Stationary bike: 214 calories
- Swimming: 286 calories
- Weight lifting: 250 calories
- Walking (less than 2 mph): 125 calories
- Yoga: 143 calories
Please note: Calories burned are based upon 150 lb person.
10. Watch your emotions. If you are an emotional eater, the holiday season can be a trigger time that sets off an unwelcome roller coaster of mindless eating and bingeing. In order to ward off unwanted stress or comfort eating, I suggest the following:
- Identify your triggers: Are you eating because you are stressed, tired, or irritated by a certain family member? Identifying your triggers prior to holiday events will help you be more mindful, thereby making healthier choices that are good for you.
- Continue to food journal and stay in routine: Sticking to a plan is a definite tactic to keep emotional eating in check. Continue to food journal and follow a simple and basic plan on days where there are no parties.
- Plan your treats: Are the holiday rolls your favourite or do you love your aunt’s famous pecan pie? Decide on a few “must have” treats and stick to those for your indulgences.
- Be realistic: Planning for perfection over the holiday season is just not realistic. Set up manageable expectations and allow yourself to indulge here and there guilt free.
Other ways to gently tweak your holiday meals to make them healthier include:
- Cook your pasta al dente (i.e. under cook by 2-3 minutes). By doing so, you lower the glycemic index of the pasta thereby lowering blood sugar fluctuations (which lead to hunger and weight gain).
- Choose leaner cuts of meat: beef labeled “loin”, “round” or “extra lean” are the lowest in fat.
- Consider healthier options to cooking your meats such as roasting, baking, grilling or braising.
- Steam your vegetables and or sauté in a healthy oil such as extra virgin olive oil.
- Have sprouted grain or whole grain rolls available on the table instead of white bread.
- Instead of white mashed potatoes, try mashed sweet potatoes. A medium sized sweet potato contains just 160 calories and offers 3 grams of fiber. You can also easily create a sweet potato martini bar with options of toppings such as low fat sour cream, sautéed mushrooms or onions and/or capers.
- Instead of white rice (and for your gluten free friends), try quinoa which is filled with fiber and protein.
- Use sugar substitutions that are healthier such as spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), vanilla and coconut sugar (low on the glycemic index).
- Make healthier substitutions when baking. For example, instead of 1 whole egg, use 2 egg whites; instead of sour cream, use low-fat plain yogurt; instead of ice cream, use frozen yogurt; instead of whipped cream, use chilled evaporated skim milk or coconut milk; and instead of cheese, use low-fat cheese.
Additional healthy holiday tips include:
- Never go to a holiday party hungry! Eat a hard boiled egg or a small yogurt prior to going.
- For every glass of wine or beer you drink, follow it with a glass of water.
- If you arrive home and suspect you’ve over-indulged on alcohol, have one or two 8-ounce glasses of fresh distilled water with a shot of orange juice prior to going to sleep. By doing so, you will help to alleviate some of the headache, dehydration and stomach upset often experienced after a night of partying a little too hard.
- Always have a veggie tray handy with low fat Ranch dip and/or hummus.
- Have alcohol free options such as sparkling water and cranberry juice available.
- Purchase whole grain crackers for your guests to use with dips and spreads.
- When baking, experiment with healthier alternative flours such as almond, quinoa, kamut or spelt flour.
- When baking, add in some grated zucchini, carrots and/or applesauce or mashed bananas for an extra nutritious punch.
Courtesy Dr. Joey Shulman
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