The holiday season can be hard on the waistline. It’s easy to overindulge in sweets and fatty foods, and because of this, most professionals advocate trying to maintain a weight, rather than trying to lose weight during the holidays.
Weight is not the only issue at the holidays. Heavy holiday meals with lots of desserts can cause problems for people with health issues and food allergies. High-sodium foods, like processed meats, are dangerous for people that suffer from hypertension. Foods high in sugar pose a problem for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities need to be careful with breads, cookies, and stuffing. Allergy triggers can have a way of hiding, too. However, it can be really easy to make some switches and help everyone enjoy the holidays.
Tips for Eating Healthy
While there is nothing essentially different about eating healthy during the holidays, it still seems harder to stay on a healthy eating plan this time of year. The prevalence of baked goods, big meals, and other delicious treats make it easy to indulge.
Here are a few things you can do to stem the food tide:
Control Portions: Use small plates, and try to avoid going back for seconds (or thirds…or fourths). It’s easy to push more food onto your plate, but taking smaller portions will let you try more things and still satisfy your cravings without packing on pounds. And don’t binge on the hors d’oeuvres!
Eat Before the Holiday Party: A home-cooked meal eaten before you head out for an evening party is usually a good idea. It will reduce your cravings for the fatty, sugary and otherwise unhealthy foods that often show up at such shindigs. You don’t have to skip the treats entirely – you can still taste a few of the goodies, but you will be less likely to engorge yourself on them.
Plan Your Meals: Allow yourself a reasonable portion of things that are an absolute must for you. Fill up your plate (and your stomach) with fruits and vegetables, but leave as many fatty, high-sugar items as you can out of your plan.
Prepare Your Snacks: Don’t settle for what happens to be lying around (or on the shelf at the convenience store). Take low calorie, nutrient-packed snacks with you so that you are prepared if you get a hunger pang in the middle of the afternoon. Protein bars can fit easily in a purse or pocket and can keep you satisfied until your next meal. A container of sliced apples or some nuts also work as a good snack.
Avoid Mindless Eating: Eating should be more than just putting food in your mouth and swallowing. One way to do that is to chew your food more (and more carefully) – this will not only help you enjoy the experience more, but it has been shown that chewing your food more can actually reduce the number of calories you take in over the course of the day. Also, skip the eating and snacking while watching TV (or Netflix, or whatever…), which tends to increase the overall caloric intake.
Keep Track: Whether you use an old-school paper journal or a new-fangled app on your smartphone, keeping track of what you eat and drink on a daily basis is a great way to stay mindful of your overall health. It’s not just about counting calories – keeping a food journal can also help you understand your daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need.
Enjoying “Special” Days While Staying Healthy
Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s are not the only days with added calories. December is filled with special observances like National Cookie Day on December 4th and National Brownie Day on December 8th. On days like these, people tend to bring baked goods and other goodies into the office, making it hard to avoid those fatty, sweet treats.
While you might not be able to avoid all the cookies, brownies breads, and fruitcakes during the holidays, here are some tips for how to make recipes a little healthier.
National Cookie Day (December 4)
Try swapping sugar for agave nectar. Agave nectar has lower glycemic index value, so it doesn’t affect blood sugar as much and is less likely lead to an energy crash. It is also sweeter than sugar, so you can use less and still get the same flavor. When using agave nectar, be sure to reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup and lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
To lower the fat content of your cookies, puree beans with water and use the mixture to replace half of the butter or shortening.
National Brownie Day (December 8)
To cut the fat in the brownies, add pureed tofu instead of butter. This simple switch can cut the fat content by half. For a healthier sweetness, try adding finely grated beets to the recipe – 2/3 cup of grated beets can replace ¼ cup of sugar.
National Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16)
Consider paying for higher quality ingredients, like premium cocoa and pure vanilla extract. These ingredients have more powerful flavors, allowing you to use use less and while retaining the full flavor.
Gluten-Free Baking Week (December 17-23)
Try your hand at gluten-free with some easy switches. Instead of using wheat flour, try using rice or soy flour, potato or corn starch, and xanthan gum. Remember, gluten that affects people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities primarily comes from wheat, rye, and barley.
Check out these recipes for gluten-free pancakes, banana bread, and homemade bread.
National Bake Cookies Day (December 18)
If you don’t get enough cookies on National Cookie Day, then you have National Bake Cookies Day on December 18.
Switch your chocolate chips over to mini morsels for your next batch of chocolate chip cookies. You can use half as much but still get a solid chocolate chip experience. If you want to add some fiber to your cookie recipe, replace half of your wheat flour with whole wheat flour, which adds 10 grams of heart-healthy fiber per cup.
Enjoy the Holidays Without Bingeing
The holidays are fraught with food peril for many people. By making some simple changes and being aware of what you are eating, you can enjoy this holiday season with the whole family and still manage to control your weight, enjoy foods, and enjoy your time.