The holidays are great for a number of reasons. They’re a great opportunity for family and friends to get together and enjoy each other’s company while also enjoying some delicious food. The closeness and holiday cheer boost everyone’s spirits and you leave feeling like a brand-new person. What the holidays aren’t good for are your waistline and cholesterol levels.
The holiday season is notorious for killing diets and healthy eating habits rather quickly. It’s pretty difficult to resist temptations when you’re surrounded by tons of gorgeous and well-cooked food. Continuing your healthy streak becomes impossible afterwards and this puts people in a difficult situation. Do you avoid the gatherings and miss out on food and company, or do you find some balance during the holiday feast? The latter option might not be as hard as you think, as long as you take some precautions.
Spice things up
If you’re the designated chef for the holiday season, you’re probably not going to want to make your food too spicy. Even if you prefer it that way, it’s likely that other members of your family might have something to say about it. Not everyone has the same tolerance for spicy food. This means food is often left at a neutral or balanced spice level, while still being pretty delicious. However, there’s something about extra spicy food that could do you a lot of good when it comes to picking your portions.
Research has shown that people who prefer to eat spicy food often consume less total food during the holidays. Why this happens is a mystery, but there are a couple of factors to consider. Even the biggest spicy food guru is going to eat their portion slowly if it’s been seasoned to the maximum. A slow eater is going to end up eating less food, simply because their stomach has enough time to process what it’s getting. Seasonings and spices add extra taste to the food, so people are less likely to reach for the salt, which means blood pressure stays low.
Even if you aren’t the designated cook, there’s no reason you can’t spice up your own portions. Bring some extra spices and sauces to the family dinner and you’re going to find that you’ll be eating a lot less unhealthy food, while also getting an even tastier experience.
Start early, and start healthy
Once you’ve found yourself at the family dinner, all bets are off when it comes to what’s going on your plate. Between the tasty food and potential for judgmental looks from your family, you don’t want to be seen holding back and avoiding food. On the other hand, nobody can stop you from eating a little something before you decide to head out and join your family.
Pre-gaming with some healthy food could help curb your appetite before you even have the opportunity to get close to an unhealthy meal. It’s a solid strategy for avoiding the temptation to gorge yourself. No one can judge you for not wanting to eat if you can’t have another bite.
High-fiber foods are a great choice for this. They can get you full without providing you with a lot of calories. This is why food like avocadoes are considered so healthy. Make yourself an avocado spread on some whole wheat bread and you’re going to be partially sated before you even start dinner.
Don’t skip meals
Holiday dinners aren’t exactly prime examples of healthy eating environments. You’re not going to be surrounded by an average number of food portions. It’s part of a tradition to go all out and create as much food as possible for the occasion, even if the food isn’t exactly what you might call “healthy”. This can often be detrimental to anyone that’s trying to improve their eating habits or looking to add some healthier elements to their diet.
Common sense will tell you that eating fewer meals during the day is something that can help you off-set the damage that the holiday dinner will do. After all, it makes sense. If you eat less food throughout the day, you’ll only have to worry about the things you eat during dinner. You can’t eat a whole day’s worth of food in one meal, so why worry?
It’s a bit more complicated than that, unfortunately. Nutritionists always stress the importance of balancing your meals all throughout the day. Getting rid of an entire meal is already considered detrimental, let alone skipping out on several. Depriving yourself of calories isn’t going to make the holiday dinner any healthier, on the contrary, it might make it even worse.
You’re definitely going to binge a lot more later on if you haven’t previously eaten any meals. Worse yet, it’s going to cause your blood sugar to spike dramatically, as your body simply won’t be prepared for the sudden influx of sugar and fat. This will lead to a complementary spike in insulin which will leave you drained throughout the night. You’ll quickly find yourself eyeing a plate again, and the cycle will continue.
Add a little color to your plate
You can fault holiday dinners for a lot of things, but you can’t talk about a lack of diversity. There’s always a plethora of food that would make a buffet feel limited. Despite all of this variety, people often find themselves reaching for the most typical representative holiday foods. Dishes like mashed potatoes often end up taking up most of the plate. Instead of being colourful, plates end up being mostly white and brown. This is indicative of a severe lack of essential vegetables and fruit.
Adding a little extra diversity to your plate will give you some extra taste to work with, while also providing you with healthier nutrients. Skip out on the casserole and fill the plate up with tomatoes, bell pepper dishes, and green salads. Considering that it’s a holiday dinner, you can pretty much guarantee that any vegetables included will be prepared in the tastiest way possible. You aren’t really losing out on any delicious food by making your plate more colourful.
Don’t forget to grab some fruit on the way to the dessert table. People don’t make cakes and treats with fruits for no reason. Combining colourful and healthy fruits with some less-than-ideal treats is a good compromise for dessert.
Keep track of the food you eat
It’s easy to get carried away when you’re at the dinner table. There’s no limit at the family buffet. Tracking calories seems like an impossible task when you’re surrounded by all kinds of different dishes. When you go back for seconds or thirds, all bets are off for what you’ve eaten. By the end of the night, it becomes hard to gouge what you’ve consumed throughout.
However, you have to track the food you eat during the holidays as it can throw you off the course of your diet. Calories are hard enough to track when your food intake is constant, but holidays are a whole other challenge. If you have a specific weight goal, make sure you weigh yourself daily and note the changes. Gaining a couple of pounds isn’t so bad, but you have to take note of the increase and act accordingly. For many people, the holiday season marks the end of their diet and they return to their old ways.
Manage the portion sizes
A good strategy to limit the amount of food you eat is to pick your portions wisely. While it might not seem like it’s not all that important, portion sizes do influence how you perceive the food in front of you.
Bigger portions feel just about the same as portions that are significantly smaller than them. This can prove to be a problem, as portion sizes get out of control at holiday dinners. You’re encouraged to fill your plate up to the brim with food, which might not be the best idea. Try to fill up your plate will smaller portions of food. It’s a small change that can have a huge impact on your calorie intake for the night.
Smaller utensils also help solve the problem. Bigger portions and utensils allow you to gorge yourself before it gets any time to react. Part of the reason using smaller cookware works is that you take your time while eating. This allows your stomach to adapt to the food and signal to your brain that it’s full.
Choose your environment
Unsurprisingly, your environment has an enormous impact on how much you eat. When you’re surrounded by tons of people enjoying delicious food, you’re not exactly going to want to hold back yourself. It’s pretty common for people to eat a lot more food when they’re at the dinner table the whole night. The close proximity of attractive food is another factor that makes it harder to resist.
A good trick is to only eat while surrounded by a small group of people. If there are multiple tables, try to situate yourself at a smaller one. It’s going to put a lot less pressure on you to eat and you’re going to find it easier to hold back.
Bring your own food
Holiday gatherings often have a ton of food available, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bring a little something of your own. Not all of the food is going to be what you can call “healthy”, which gives you more than enough reason to take something with you when you pay your relatives a visit. Even if there’s healthy food available, it might not be the kind that you enjoy, which might discourage you from keeping your meals healthy.
Despite being chock-full of food, you can’t count on holiday dinners to provide you with your daily nutritional needs. It’s crucial that you always have your nutrition in check, even if you’re not eating at home for the time being. Athletes will often take their protein mixes along with them so that they don’t miss out on their scheduled dose of protein. If you’re watching your health and eating your daily dose of moringa, you should consider bringing a tablespoon of it in a baggie or small jar. There’s no reason you should skip your vitamin boost for the day.
If you’re trying to cut down on sugar, the cakes and treats that are featured might not be up your alley. However, it would be a shame for the festive feast to go by without a proper dessert. To compensate, bring your own low-sugar desserts to give yourself a treat. You don’t have to worry about ruining your diet if it continues throughout the holidays.
Make a food swap
Some foodstuffs are absolutely essential for the holiday dining experience. You’ll have a hard time avoiding them during dinner, which can prove to be a problem. The good news is that there’s always a wide variety of food available, so you can pick and choose healthier options for your favourite side dishes.
Cutting back on salt and sugar is as simple as making some slight tweaks to the cooking. If possible, try to influence the kind of food that’s featured during holiday dinners. Suggest that certain foods are swapped for healthier alternatives. Consider potatoes for an example. White potatoes are a staple of Autumn and Winter feasts, but they aren’t the healthiest option out there. Swapping them out for sweet potatoes that are rich in vitamin A would go just as well while being a lot more nutritive.
You can apply this line of thinking to just about any foodstuff at the table. There are countless healthy variations on common dishes that you can choose from. It’s a lot easier to pass on the mashed potatoes if you have mashed cauliflower available.
Sticking to a healthy eating regime becomes especially challenging during the holidays, but it’s not at all impossible. If you show some initiative and plan out your nutrition for the night, you’ll find it a lot easier to deal with all the extra food that’s available. Consider the above tips and you won’t have any problems during the holidays.
Lena Hemsworth is a lifestyle blogger, foodie, and lover of a good book. She’s also a strong believer in the written word and positive thoughts.
Find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HemsworthLena