Dec 16, 2019
The secret sauce
As a dietitian, one of the many questions I am asked most often is how to navigate the holidays without packing on the pounds. The best answer, I’ve found, has nothing to do with food.
Studies have shown that lack of sleep and increased stress can lead people to make poor food choices. And the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can feel like a six-week obstacle course with a buffet of stuffing, turkey, prime rib, pumpkin pie, alcohol, shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating.
So how can you take care of yourself during the holidays?
Take time to keep active. Make sure you get enough sleep. And do what you need to do to manage stress, whether that’s getting a relaxing massage, meditating or enjoying some downtime. And during the big day, think about how you can take a break from the buffet, whether it’s by pitching in to clean up or playing a board game after dinner, or better yet, getting outside and taking a walk as a family before you dive into dessert.
In my family, “Elena’s Walk” has become a holiday tradition—one that started over 15 years ago thanks to my young niece, Elena, and her mom, who always wanted to get outside after dinner. No matter the holiday, everyone knows to bring their hats, mittens, scarves and sneakers to dinner in preparation for our post-feast stroll. When we get back from our walk, we feel so invigorated that we’re happy skipping dessert or at least having a smaller portion. This isn’t surprising—it has been estimated that it can take up to 20 minutes for our brain to get a message from our stomach that we’re full. Taking a little break to walk or talk or help clean up can give your body time to figure out whether you really want that second helping or a piece of pie.
There are a few other tricks that can help you on the food front, too:
Don’t arrive to a holiday party hungry and try not to grab an alcoholic drink right when you walk in the door
Studies show that drinking alcohol on an empty stomach actually increases people’s appetite. That’s why it’s important to eat a good meal or at least have a snack before the main event. Make sure it’s something balanced that has some protein and/or fiber to keep you fuller longer, like a few organic turkey and cheese roll-ups or some veggies and hummus.
Indulge on the day
Yes, you can enjoy your holiday meal without guilt! But make sure your one day of decadence doesn’t spill over into the following days or weeks. Do your best to get right back to your routine the next day if you can. Keep in mind that having an extra 200-300 calories a day over five to six weeks can lead to a weight gain of 2-3 pounds or more during the holiday season.
Don’t forget to hydrate
Every cell in our body needs water to function at its best, especially during the winter months, which tend to be very drying. Not only that, but consuming water makes us feel fuller, so we eat less. If you don’t love drinking water, try adding some cut-up citrus or a little pomegranate juice to your water to dress it up.
Savor the flavor of what you’re eating
Add more colorful foods to your holiday spread
And by colorful foods, I mean vegetables. Whether you’re hosting or bringing a dish to share, consider a veggie side dish, such as a big, bold salad or bright vegetable medley. Adding veggies to your table adds festive color along with filling fiber and other great nutrients to fuel your body.
Always try to keep the holidays in perspective. Remember, it’s not all about the feast or the shopping or the stress—it’s about enjoying the time spent with friends and family.
Heather Baptiste was interviewed by Rachel Coppola for this column.
Heather is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts health engagement strategist and a registered dietitian. Have a question about wellness that you would like us to address in a column? Contact us here!