Is your calendar packed full of holiday cheer over the next 3 weeks?? ‘Tis the season for holiday festivities & feasts! I know what your thinking…”there goes my figure!” It seems the odds are against us for 5 weeks a year. All this food, such a busy schedule, and even the weather during the holidays can diminish our motivation to exercise. In November and December we’re faced with every culinary temptation imaginable, our schedules are full, and we struggle to find time for the much needed exercise our mind, body & spirit crave. It is common for some to pack on the average of one to two pounds during the holiday season — which doesn’t sound like much, unless you gain that extra pound year after year. But, never fear!! It is possible to enjoy all the festivities–including the special foods that help make the season so enjoyable, without compromising your overall health. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays, plan a time for activity, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals, and you won’t have to restrict yourself from enjoying your favourite holiday foods. In the long run, your mind, body & soul will thank you!
Take the focus off food.
It would seem that every social event we attend revolves around the sharing of food or drink. Why is that?? Turn candy and cookie making time into non-edible projects like making wreaths, dough art decorations or a gingerbread house. Plan group activities with family and friends that aren’t all about food. Try serving a holiday meal to the community, playing games or going on a walking tour of decorated homes.
Eat four to six smaller meals rather than “saving” yourself for that special holiday meal
Who can resist the smell of a holiday kitchen when you’re starving? Odds are slim to none. Not only do smaller, more frequent meals enhance metabolic activity, your less likely to binge on those holiday treats.
To help curb your appetite before a party, choose to snack on “heavy” foods or those that contain a high water content like broth-based soups, fruits and vegetables. Appetite-control researchers have found that your brain may monitor how much you eat based on the weight of your food. One study discovered that people automatically stop eating when they consume a particular weight of food, regardless of the amount of fat or calories.
So instead of eating lightweight foods like chips, crackers, rice cakes and popcorn to curb your appetite, choose heavier foods like fruits and vegetables. Remember to be realistic. Don’t try to lose pounds during the holidays, instead try to maintain your current weight.
In short, don’t skip meals. You will be less tempted to over-indulge.
SLOW DOWN when enjoying holiday feasts!
Many of us may be inclined to “hurry” our meals. It takes at least 20 minutes for our brains to signal that we’re actually full, which means a slow eater will consume less calories before feeling full than someone who races through their meal. Eat only until you are satisfied, not stuffed. Savor your favorite holiday treats while eating small portions. Although the feasts are a very special part of our holiday gatherings, the most precious thing we have is time. Drink in the beautiful memories created by fanily and friends. Sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy.
Take advantage of “nutritionally dense” holiday foods
Most have never thought of traditional holiday foods as a nutritional gift. You may have considered those extra pounds you gained from holiday eating more of a nutritional wake-up call than a gift. Fortunately, many holiday food staples can supply our bodies with a multitude of health-enhancing nutrients and when consumed in moderation, can actually become year-round nutritional staples. So during this holiday season, be sure to include these health enhancing (and seasonal) foods:
Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta-carotene, which is converted to resistance-building vitamin A. Pumpkin is also a wonderful source of iron, a mineral essential for transporting oxygen to our working cells. Try replacing the traditional pastry crust with crushed ginger snap cookies or graham crackers instead.
Cranberries: The cranberry’s plant pigment that provides colour to our holiday plate also provides a number of compounds that have shown early promise against cancer and heart disease. The ellagic acid in cranberries has been shown to help prevent tumor growth by disarming cancer-causing agents. In addition, cranberries contain two powerful flavonoids–quercetin and myricetin–that have been shown to prevent damage to blood vessel linings, thereby playing a role in the prevention of artery disease. Because cranberries are tart when eaten alone, many cranberry sauce recipes call for a lot of sugar. Generally, reducing the sugar content by 25 percent still yields a tasty product. Many diabetics have used the natural sweetener Stevia instead of sugar with great success.
Turkey provides significant sources of B-vitamins, selenium and zinc, nutrients essential for optimal nerve and immune function. Skip the outer skin and you’ll avoid most of the fat. While white meat is generally considered the most nutritious part of the bird with its low fat content, darker meat contains 10 percent more iron per three-ounce serving. When selecting a turkey, choose fresh, unbaked rather than pre-basted–these are injected with an oil and salty broth mixture. You can baste the turkey with broth rather than butter to further reduce the fat content.
Sweet Potatoes: Despite an impressive nutritional profile and sweet flavor, sweet potato consumption has gone down instead of up. A four-ounce sweet potato contains a mere 143 calories and provides over 100 percent of our daily needs for beta-carotene. It also provides more than a quarter of our daily needs for vitamins C and E. In addition, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of iron, a nutrient commonly lacking in vegetarians. So expand your intake of sweet potatoes beyond the traditional Thanksgiving casserole: Add sweet potatoes to chili; shred it raw into hamburger, meatloaf and meatball mixtures; toss chunks of it into salads; or use mashed sweet potato as ravioli stuffing.
Chestnuts, in contrast to other calorie and fat laden nuts contain less than one gram of fat per ounce, while providing a hefty dose of fiber, vitamin C, and folic acid. These nutrients are important for immune function, formation of collagen and reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. Chestnuts are good in stuffing, pilaf, vegetable side dishes and soups. They’re also excellent snacks by themselves.
Remember the law of diminishing returns
Doesn’t the first bite always taste the best? When looking at brain chemicals signaling “pleasure,” scientists have found that we receive less pleasure the more we eat of a food. Who said you must eat a full serving of every dessert at a holiday meal? Take a bite or two and receive 90 percent of the pleasure at 10 percent of the calories
Offer to bring a healthy dish to holiday parties
If you’re concerned about the unhealthy array of foods that are bound to be served at an upcoming function, call the host ahead of time to see if you can bring a healthy dish. Chances are, the host will be happy to have some help with the overwhelming task of pleasing a hungry crowd!
For appetizers, you could bring a vegetable platter with homemade dip; a colorful fruit platter with a dip made from yogurt and berries; wheat free pita triangles served with hummus; or baked tortilla chips with chunky salsa.
Practice Healthy Holiday Cooking.
Preparing favourite dishes lower in fat and calories will help promote healthy holiday eating. Incorporate some of these simple-cooking tips in traditional holiday recipes to make them healthier.
Gravy — Refrigerate the gravy to harden fat. Skim the fat off. This will save a whopping 56 gm of fat per cup.
Dressing — Use a whole grain and a little less bread, add more onions, garlic, celery, and vegetables. Use fruits such as cranberries or apples. Moisten or flavor with low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and applesauce.
Turkey – Enjoy delicious, roasted turkey breast without the skin and save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3 oz serving.
Green Bean Casserole — Cook fresh green beans with chucks of potatoes instead of cream soup. Top with almonds instead of fried onion rings.
Mashed Potato — Use rice milk or chicken broth instead of dairy milk. Add garlic for taste and an immunity boost.
Quick Holiday Nog — Four bananas, 1-1/2 cups rice milk or sugar free almond milk, 1-1/2 cups plain yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon rum extract, and ground nutmeg. Blend all ingredients except nutmeg. Puree until smooth. Top with nutmeg.
Desserts — Substitute two egg whites for each whole egg in baked recipes. Top cakes and tarts with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of fattening frosting.
Beware of liquid calories, especially alcohol !
Be careful, those liquid calories can add up quickly. Alcohol actually contains almost as many calories per gram as fat (seven calories vs. nine calories per gram). Combine the alcohol with creamy or sweet mixtures, and you get even more calories. Alcohol also tends to lower our inhibitions, which means you’ll be less careful about what and how much you indulge at the party. Be careful with beverages. Non-alcoholic beverages can be full of calories and sugar. Try 1/4 glass fruit juice with flat or sparkling water. Do not substitute sugary drinks with the “diet” variety as these pose even more health risks.
Don’t mill around the appetizers!
It’s hard to believe how much those small handfuls of munchies add up at a party. It appears that people who are socializing away from the appetizer tables are less apt to subconsciously pick at the food. Instead, they fill one small plate of food and then called it quits. Make a conscious effort to position yourself away from the hors d’oeuvres at a holiday function. Survey your party appetizer buffets before filling your plate. Choose your favourite foods and skip your least favourite. Include vegetables and fruits to keep your plate balanced, and help lessen the urge to return to the table.
Use your party foods to your advantage! Plan a workout before a holiday party or big meal.
Why not use all those scrumptious holiday foods as recovery from a good run, bicycle ride, long hike, etc? In the one or two hours after intense exercise, our bodies are more sensitive to the hormone insulin, which helps transport sugars to our depleted muscles. All those precious carbohydrates found in starchy holiday dishes like mashed potatoes, or sugars found in cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie are excellent for glycogen replenishment. The protein you’ll get from that holiday turkey meal will help repair damaged tissue. Furthermore, our metabolism is heightened after a hard effort, meaning we’re more effective at burning those little “indulgences” that may otherwise pack on the unwanted weight. Since we are so busy during this season, be sure to plan time for exercise. Exercise also helps relieve holiday stress. A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. If you are really strapped for time, try 10- or 15-minute brisk walks twice a day.