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Happy Eating for the Holidays

Updated: Feb 8, 2022







Two words that don’t seem to go together are healthy and holidays. This time of year brings an abundance of food at every occasion and get together, and many of us find it difficult to maintain our normal eating habits. Too many times you hear people talking about gaining weight over the holidays and as a result, their plans to start a diet in the new year.


Personally & professionally, I don’t think diets work – not as a New Year’s resolution, not as a punishment for whatever you ate over the holidays, and not because you want to drop a size before your next birthday. Diets mean restriction and no one wants to restrict or deny themselves the foods that they love, or carry the guilt of "cheating" when their eating plan is too strict to adhere to - especially in times of celebration.


And, to put it simply - dieting is just not a healthy option either. If you restrict or deny yourself certain foods or food groups, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Also, calorie restriction that is too severe, can actually slow your metabolism.


Whether you want to change your body composition, maintain a healthy body weight or just eat healthier, dieting is not the answer. It takes something much more substantial (like a lifestyle change) to make these things happen. Also, when you try to maintain a rigid eating structure that is not sustainable, eventually you'll wear yourself down mentally and "give in" to cravings. This starts to create an unhealthy relationship with food and can take you down the path of disordered eating.


EVERYTHING IN MODERATION. This means finding a balance between binging on highly processed foods that are high in fat, calories, and sodium and completely eliminating them from your diet. Be mindful of portion sizes and listen to your body's hunger and satiety cues. Make sure you are nourishing your body with whole foods that provide you with the nutrients you need daily to maintain optimal health. And, allow yourself to selectively enjoy the foods that you love (and that you've probably tried to restrict yourself from in the past).


Realizing that you can enjoy food and still maintain a healthy balance in your life will instinctually lead you to make healthier choices. The first step is to stop looking at and categorizing foods as either "good" or "bad". Instead, focus more on what your body needs and what it feels best eating. Changing your mindset is a lot of work, but having a healthy relationship with food can have a very positive impact in your life.







So, rather than heading into this holiday season imposing impossibly unrealistic dieting goals on yourself, try focusing more on enjoying your time with family & friends. Below are a few quick and easy tips to help keep you on track so you can face every event and gathering with confidence.





1) Practice portion control! Allow yourself to indulge a little, but don’t go overboard. Most of the time a few bites of a favorite food are enough to satisfy your craving.



2) Choose smaller plates. If salad or dessert plates are available, opt to use these instead of full-size dinner plates.


3) Take your time eating. The more slowly you eat, the more time your stomach has to register when it’s had it’s fill. If you have the opportunity, try lightly grazing and only try a few things at a time (you can always go back for more if you are still hungry). If you eat too fast, you may end up eating way more than you wanted or needed to because you didn't realize you were full.




4) Fill your plate 2/3 full of vegetables, salad, and fruits and reserve only 1/3 of the space for foods that are higher in fat, sodium, sugar and calories.






5) Avoid fried foods and opt for foods that are grilled, broiled, or baked instead.


6) Go easy on dressings, gravy, and sauces. These are often high in fat in and calories. If you can't pass them up, put them on the side of the dish and try using them as a "dip" instead of pouring them all over your food.


7) Practice mindful eating. We know this can be a tough one – especially when you’re chatting the whole time you are eating. Do your best to be conscious of what you’re eating though. It’s much easier to overeat when you’re not paying attention.


Also, pay close attention to your hunger cues - make sure that you are eating only when you are hungry, and that you stop when you are full.


8) If the food is being served buffet style, try to serve yourself rather than allowing wait staff to serve you. This will give you much more control over your portion sizes.



9) Be careful of those cocktails!! There are a lot of hidden calories in drinks and cocktails around this time of year. Since it’s not practical (or much fun) to try and avoid them entirely, try asking for smaller sizes of these drinks or, limit yourself to just one.




10) And finally, and this is the most important one – HAVE FUN! Remember it’s ok to eat, drink, and be merry without guilt or restriction. Food is meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy!!




 


Now...

Let’s talk about some ways you can make your holiday dishes a little healthier. These tips are helpful whether you’re cooking for your whole family, or just for yourself. They can be applied to tonight’s dinner or that potluck dish you’re taking to your work holiday party.


*PROTEIN:

Protein is a macronutrient that has multiple benefits for your body. It also helps you feel full which can reduce your appetite and help you stay away from empty carbs.



When preparing your dishes, opt for high quality, lean proteins. Healthy proteins can include fish and poultry, low fat dairy products, beans, nuts and seeds, seitan, and tofu or soy. You can also use lean cuts of red meat if you like.



A helpful tip is to use half the amount of meat that a recipe calls for and substitute beans (black beans, kidney and cannellini beans, or chickpeas) for the other half. As an added bonus – substituting beans for half of the meat in the recipe will save you some money too!


*WHOLE GRAINS:

Among other health benefits, whole grains can help regulate your blood sugar and are packed full of fiber, so they help you feel full longer. For these reasons, whole grains are a great addition to your holiday recipes! You’ll want to make sure that you are buying the whole / actual grains or using whole grain flours though rather than purchasing pre-made foods that claim to have whole grains in them (they may contain whole grains but also might be loaded with fat, sugar, and preservatives).


You can easily substitute whole grain flour in your homemade breads and desserts. If you’re unsure if it will affect the texture of the finished product, start out by using 50% whole grain flour and 50% all-purpose flour. You can slowly increase the amount of whole grain flour over time as you continue to make the recipe, but at least you’ll have a starting point to compare the original recipe to.


Because whole grains are so good for you, they have become more and more popular in recent years. This has made it very easy for you to find and try new and different varieties. Whole and ancient grains like pearl barley, spelt, farrow, millet, amaranth and quinoa can be purchased in most grocery stores and go great in soups, salads, and casseroles, or as their own side dish.


*LOW FAT OPTIONS:

This can be a tough one to manage throughout the holidays, but it can be done! You’ll want to stick to lean proteins and low-fat dairy options like skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk whenever possible. When baking you can substitute plain Greek yogurt or even low-fat cream cheese for butter.


Also, opt for low-fat snacks like fresh vegetables and hummus, fruit, nuts (these aren’t low fat, but they contain healthy fats), and baked crackers or pitas rather than regular chips, fried foods or candies.


*EAT YOUR VEGGIES:

What more can I say here? Load up on as many vegetables as you can – preferably fresh or raw since cooked dishes can have a lot of hidden fat and sodium. Most vegetables have the most nutrition in their raw form anyway and they also have a pleasing crunch. Watch the dips and dressings though – try to opt for hummus or low-fat dips and dressings when you can - and when you can’t, put it on the side instead of over the top. You’ll use a lot less that way!



You can also add vegetables to a lot of your cooked dishes for extra bulk and texture. Try adding them to soups, stews, sauces, and casseroles.




*LESS SUGAR IN YOUR BAKED GOODS AND DESSERTS:

This one is near and dear to my heart since my roots are in baking. I love the challenge of working out new recipes and figuring out new and inventive ways to reduce fat and sugar in baked goods, while still maintaining the desired texture and mouth feel. If you don’t share my passion though, follow these tips for sugar substitutes in your baked goods.


All of the following can be substituted 1:1 for sugar in your recipes (1 cup sugar = 1 cup of the alternatives below).


· Fruit purees are great substitutes for sugar in your recipes (apples & pears work great). Even though I usually do a 1:1 ratio on this one, you may need to adjust slightly between cookies & cakes. Preferably your fruit purees will be homemade (see my blog on reducing sugar in your diet for tips on how to make your own), but if they aren’t, make sure you buy puree or applesauce that has no sugar added.


· Ripe, mashed bananas are also a good substitute, but they can give your baked goods a “gummy” texture at times, so don’t overdo it. It might also help to mix a tsp or two of water or lemon juice in with the mashed banana to help keep your baked goods from becoming too dense.


· Date paste or date puree is a great natural sugar substitute. You literally puree dates with a little water in a food processor and voila! It's that easy!


· Syrups (maple), honey and agave nectar can also be substituted for sugar in recipes, but you’ll need to be very careful to reduce other liquids in the recipe. You may also need to make a few other slight changes so that your baked goods still have the correct taste and texture. You can find some helpful tips at this link




 


So, now that we’ve talked about some helpful tips to keep you eating a little healthier over the holidays, you can face the parties, dinners, and social gatherings with complete confidence in your choices and enjoy yourself guilt free. Remember, even if you feel like you haven’t done quite as well as you could have, or that you’ve made choices that probably weren’t the best, tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to make a healthier start. Cheers!




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