Eating healthy over the holidays
With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving approaching next week, the eating season has begun. While people often approach holidays like Thanksgiving with the attitude that it’s only one day of splurging, it can have long-term effects. A study by the National Institute of Health showed that despite only gaining 1-2 pounds a year over the holidays, people held on to the weight, leading to health problems later on.
When deciding what to serve or eat, there are a few things you should think about leaving out. Alyssa Cellini, a nutritionist with ProCare Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in New Jersey), suggests replacing the following holiday menu items with healthier fare:
Eggnog. One cup of eggnog contains 60 grams of sugar — the same as eating two glazed donuts. It also contains 20 grams of fat, half of most people’s daily allowance. Think about replacing it with a glass of wine.
Creamed anything. Side dishes like creamed corn or appetizers like spinach dip and creamed soups are high in saturated fats and slow down the absorption of the rest of the food on your plate. Consider serving steamed vegetables instead of creamed, and offering mashed sweet potatoes instead of white mashed potatoes.
Soda or juice. You’ll probably have enough calories on your plate — why add drinks that will add calories without any satisfaction? And don’t be fooled by diet labels on drinks; the sweeteners in many low-calories drinks have been linked to increased sugar cravings.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options on the table, but Anna Dark, fitness director of the Take Charge Fitness Program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Tennessee, cautions against taking a sample of everything in the buffet. Anna says, “The trick to staying slim during the holidays is not deprivation or suffering through flavorless food. The key is moderation.” She suggests filling at least half of your plate with vegetables and splitting the rest between protein and a carbohydrate. You can also eat your favorite dishes, but try to eat smaller portions; Anna notes that “It’s OK to ask for a smaller serving or to leave food on the plate if it means less calories to burn.” Alyssa says another good way to limit your intake is to not have any second helpings.
Both Anna and Alyssa caution against starving yourself all day until the big meal, which can lead to overeating. Alyssa suggests having a healthy and fulfilling snack about an hour before the meal. Snacks like a cup of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, carrot and celery sticks, or a small salad will keep you feeling satisfied and make you less likely to overindulge.
Adding exercise to the beginning of your holiday is another great way to reduce your intake later. Cindy Murphy, a registered dietician who works with the Great Lakes region of PTPN, Physiquality’s parent company, recommends exercising first thing in the morning, followed by a high-protein breakfast. Even a quick run or a brief morning session of Pilates or yoga will reduce your insulin levels, which will help cut down your hunger pangs in the afternoon.
Lastly, enjoy the meal and don’t feel guilty about having dessert. Cindy notes that “your body releases hormones depending on how you feel about what you are doing. So eat your dessert and enjoy every bite, savoring the sweetness. Then forget about it.” And maybe go for a post-dinner walk.
Alyssa Cellini is a nutritionist with ProCare Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic with 2 locations in New Jersey. Alyssa offers counseling on weight loss, diabetes prevention, athletic performance, and more.
Anna Dark is the Fitness Director of the Take Charge Fitness Program, a wellness facility run by Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. Anna holds a B.S. in nutrition and food science from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is also a Certified Personal Trainer.
Cindy Murphy, R.D., is a registered dietician that works with the Great Lakes region of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on nutrition, in addition to the below links:
Well’s vegetarian Thanksgiving 2011. New York Times, November 2011.
Stein, Jeannine. ‘Biggest Loser’ nutritionist says all calories are not created equal. Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2011.
Conti, Lisa. Artificial sweeteners confound the brain; may lead to diet disaster. Scientific American, June 5, 2008.
Holiday weight gain slight, but may last a lifetime. National Institute of Health, May 22, 2000.