For many of us, the holiday season offers a steady stream of eating opportunities. If your goal is to control your calorie intake, you might feel a little anxious about overdoing it.
With a little planning and mindfulness, though, it’s entirely possible to enjoy the holiday foods you love while continuing to eat moderately and healthfully. The following tried-and-true strategies will help you do so.
Make a plan and stick to it
If you’re determined to stick to your healthy eating routine over the holidays, make a plan of attack for each event. Decide in advance how many hors d’oeuvres you’ll eat, how many courses you’ll order and so on.
If you choose to drink, resolve to have one or two holiday cocktails. Putting limits on what and how much you’re going to eat and drink will lower the odds of overdoing it.
Don’t arrive hungry
Eat a protein-rich snack one hour before heading out to a party. Protein slows digestion, promotes satiety and helps stabilize blood sugar.
Good choices include Greek yogurt, a latte, a handful of nuts or pumpkin seeds, roasted chickpeas, cottage cheese, almond butter with celery and edamame.
If you’re attending an evening cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres, consider eating a healthy meal at home before you go. That way hunger won’t prompt you to make food choices you otherwise wouldn’t.
Modify meals you control
Tweak your meals to accommodate for extra calories you’re likely to consume at a holiday event. Don’t skimp on the protein; instead, reduce the starchy foods in your meal.
For example, if your usual breakfast is yogurt, berries and granola, omit the granola. If you typically have toast with your morning fruit smoothie, skip it, or have only one slice.
If lunch is usually a sandwich and soup, have one-half of a sandwich with a small bowl of soup. Or, forgo the quinoa in your black-bean salad.
You’ll note that I have not recommended you skip breakfast to bank calories for a big holiday meal. Eating too little during the day can trigger cravings and overeating later on by increasing blood levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone.
Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive signals from appetite-related hormones that you’ve had enough to eat. If you rush through a meal, you’re more likely to overeat before you’re fully aware of it.
Pause between bites; put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly. Take a break halfway through your meal and gauge your hunger level. Eat until you feel satisfied, not full.
Eating slowly allows you to savour your food, which can increase satisfaction and reduce your overall intake.
Be firm with food pushers
Well-meaning hosts who won’t take no for an answer can bend your willpower and encourage you to overeat.
If you don’t want more food, or another drink, respectfully decline. A simple “No thank you, it’s delicious but I’ve had enough to eat” should suffice. If you need to, practice saying no.
Manage the leftovers
Package leftover party foods such as nuts, chips and hors d’oeuvres into snack-size resealable bags and limit yourself to one a day. Grate leftover cheese and freeze it for later use in pastas, pizza, casseroles and baking.
If you don’t want holiday baked goods to linger and tempt you, bake only the amount you’ll need. Or, freeze the leftovers to serve another time.
Get right back on track
Even if you do overindulge at a holiday meal, it’s not the end of the world. And it doesn’t mean that the rest of the holiday break is a write-off.
If you give yourself permission to fall off the wagon, it’s much easier to jump back on. Move forward and resume your healthy eating plan.
If you’re so inclined, consider keeping a food journal during the holiday break to stay mindful and accountable.
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