It starts with Halloween and ends with New Years. The holidays are a virtual minefield of unhealthy choices for the average person. We are bombarded by sweets and snacks in the workplace, on TV, in our homes, and even in the mail.
How many plates of cookies, fruit breads, savory snacks, and candies will you receive this holiday season? Everywhere you look, another dietary pitfall is ready to derail your good health and send you down a slalom course of crappy eating but you can arm yourself with good advice and good habits so read on.
Most folks think the average person gains 7-10 pounds over the holiday season but according to the New England Journal of Medicine, most people gain a little less than one pound from mid-November to mid-January.
Hooray! That means you can break out the Christmas cookies and chow down, right? Well, not if you want to feel good and keep your healthy eating habits on track because a two-month vacation from smart choices can turn into a full year of feeling sluggish, dumpy, and gross. Research shows that most people don’t take that one holiday pound off so it adds up, year after year. Worse news is that people who hit the holidays already overweight are likely to gain about five extra pounds. Where’s the “hooray” in that statistic?
So what kinds of pitfalls are lurking in every corner of the “happiest time of the year?”
- Saving for Later. Saving calories for later is a humdinger. How many times have you skipped breakfast on Thanksgiving morning because you’re “saving calories” for dinner? The problem with that type of thinking is that you don’t get your metabolism revved up for the day so you’re burning calories in low gear and by the time you get to the dinner table you are so hungry the gravy boat is calling your name and you’re ready to drown yourself in it. The rush rush rush of the season can lead you to skip meals too. The best solution to keep from hoarding calories and missing meals is to plan ahead. Know what you’re going to eat throughout the day and you won’t ever get stuck eating sugar cookies for lunch or so famished at supper that you can’t control yourself. If you plan your meals you can stay fueled, balanced, and level-headed.
- Eating Under Pressure. Pressure Eating is another fun holiday issue you’ll need to navigate. We live in a culture that has conditioned us to say, “I love you” with food. Friends will bring you baked goods and candy. Grandma will insist on drowning your perfectly healthy broccoli in a sea of her special cream sauce. And the party hostess will beg you to try one of her double fried cheese balls. How do you say “no” to that kind of love? Be gracious, be laudatory, and sing the praises of every tempting delicacy. Even take a small bite if you’d like but then shift the conversation, tell a joke, give them a hug, and skip the sugar and fat. Eating food you don’t want is not a prerequisite to celebrating the holidays. You are not obligated to consume the “love” that’s being offered to you. The holiday season is crammed full of festive foods but you are allowed to choose what you eat. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. And while you’re at it, why not try some new care-taking traditions like making friends and family flavored vinegars instead of sugary treats. They can think of you every time they dress their salad.
- Sipping Instead of Strolling. Socializing over sweating can trip up your healthy routine too. All the parties and family get-togethers can have you putting exercise on the back burner, but skipping your workout can cost you two ways. First, you will miss out on the calorie burn and the metabolism bump you win from getting your heart rate going. And second, you lose out on the calming effects of a good work out, leaving you feeling frazzled and making you more susceptible to using sweet treats to boost your energy or sate your stress level. Do yourself a favor and make time for your work out. Go for a walk, a run, a yoga class, or a power lift but take that time to care for yourself. Schedule it in like Christmas shopping and the office party. Think of it as a gift to yourself!
- Getting High on Sugar. Sugar is everywhere. There is no time of the year more saturated in sweetness than the holidays. From Halloween through New Year’s most of our homes and workplaces will enjoy (or suffer, depending on how you see it) an endless parade of sugary treats. We all know that sugar isn’t good for us. It contains no nutrients, no protein, no healthy fats, and no enzymes. Sugar provides empty, quickly digested calories that actually pull minerals out of your body during digestion. It stresses the liver, doesn’t fill you up, and causes an addictive response in the brain. Basically, there’s no good argument for eating it except that, “It tastes good.” One trick for tackling this holiday pitfall monster is the Three Bites Law of Dessert: the first bite is the best, the last bite is the grand finale, and every bite in between is forgotten. By limiting your dessert consumption to three bites you get the full sensation without the caloric burden of downing a whole slice of cheesecake. And the best news is, enjoying treats in moderation will keep you from splurging and doing your body any real damage.
- Skipping Your Beauty Sleep. Burning the candle at both ends will cost you in health and happiness too. The holidays are an extra demanding time of the year. Often we have more on our plates financially, socially, and literally. It’s difficult to get the sleep we need but blocking out 6-9 hours every night to rest, recuperate, and recharge will not only make us more productive and pleasant to be around. It will keep us thinner too. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t “make up” missed sleep. The key to healthy sleep is establishing a solid routine and consistently getting the rest you need. Sleep deprivation messes with glucose levels and lowers your body’s production of appetite-suppressing leptin while it increases production of hunger-stimulating grehlin. Plus it elevates cortisol levels which increases your chance of developing diabetes and or obesity. And research proves that sleep-deprived folks reach for carb-dense sweet salty foods. Basically, sleep deprivation is a prescription for hungry, tired, and chubby.
The holidays should be fun! Arm yourself against temptation by eating breakfast, planning your meals, drinking lots of water, and ditching guilt. Play games with your friends and family like tag and touch football, or red light green light. A good game of freeze tag is interval training in disguise. Don’t load your plate with sauces and gravies and don’t load your brain with guilt and shame. Keep it light—both your food and your heart—and you can win the happy, healthy, holiday you deserve!