“It’s the most wonderful (and rich) time of the year!”
All sorts of pleasures contribute to over-indulgence in the richest eating season of the year between October and the start of January. Three biggies:
1) Shorter darker days making us look to food more for comfort.
2) The richness of classic seasonal recipes themselves (think chicken pot pie, saucy stews and warm baked goods).
3) Seasonal decadence – the mere presence of excess around every corner whether chocolate, Christmas baking, gravy, rich sauces, pies, butter tarts, candy dishes on the desk, desserts…
Although it’s commonly said that the average person gains 7-10 pounds in this period of the year, the actual truth (New England Journal of Medicine) is that we gain on average 1 pound. Thing is, it’s typically one pound that isn’t shed. And, with each Christmas season comes one additional permanent pound that adds up over a decade or more leading to higher blood pressure and increased risk of poor health. Rats!
In thinking about consistently remaining a healthy person in all seasons of the year, more important questions than the potential weight gain itself are: How does the season affect health and energy? Do I feel great or excessively tired and sluggish all the time?
To prevent a holiday food hangover or feeling lousy overall after holiday get-togethers, consider these 8 strategies in having your cake and eating it too:
3 Strategies You May Already Know:
- Avoid ‘saving up’ and ‘writing off’. Prevent these dangers by not showing up at parties famished. Although arriving with an appetite is good, arriving over-hungry with low blood sugar is a guaranteed ticket for the “I ate (or drank) too much express” and poor food decisions overall. Avoid writing off the entire night or worse the entire season in the event you do go overboard.
- Avoid proximity to the food table. Try not to position yourself right next to the buffet, a table full of rich appetizers or the bar the whole time. Out of sight, out of mind…well, at least a little less on the mind if you’re not positioned right beside the temptations.
- Avoid making food the entire focus. It’s a big wonderful part of the festive season indeed, but also try to put some emphasis on calorie-free aspects like charitable giving, engaging conversations, fun party games, winter energy-expending activities like skating, skiing or a snowy walk looking at festive lights.
5 New Strategies:
- It’s Not Your Last Meal Ever: Avoid approaching the gathering like it’s the last opportunity you’ll ever have to attend a party in your whole life. You will get to eat again!
- Eat Mindfully: Become a student of mindful eating. Choose decadent treats that really do it for you. For example, I can live without egg nog and fruit cake but will instead hone in on specific favourite Christmas cookies. Work on eating slower and really noticing what you’re eating. This will help in enjoying 2 or 3 appies or cookies instead of 7 or 8. Practice declining food if you genuinely aren’t hungry or aren’t wanting an alcoholic beverage. Stay well hydrated too in this season of excess sugar and salt.
- Share the Gift of Healthy Food: Fill a basket with a variety of nice teas, nuts, dark chocolate, fruit, novel healthy ‘treats’ like spicy dried chickpeas, pea pods, fibre-rich crackers, a healthy cookbook or grocery store gift card. Hostess and teacher gifts don’t have to be chocolates and wine every time.
- Be Aware of Liquid Calories: Club soda is your friend. Use soda water to dilute drinks and add slices of lemon, lime and orange or frozen cranberries and fresh mint for a colourful, healthy boost. Sip slower. Savour longer. Eliminate a lot of calories by going alcohol-free if you’re simply after the fizzy cranberry or peppermint flavour of the beverage.
- Give Vegetables a Starring Role. Gravy volcanoes aren’t ideal (that mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate with a waterfall of gravy cascading down it). Focus on vegetables. Choose vibrant, healthy meal and appetizer options that are vegetable-based. Fruit, fibre and lean-protein based options are also great. Fibre and protein-rich choices will satiate more than high sugar, low fibre or low protein treats that will leave you craving more. Some delicious and nourishing examples: savoury dips like hummus, tzatziki, roasted red pepper dip or gourmet salad dressings from real, wholesome ingredients to go with an endless variety of fresh or roasted vegetables.
3 Easy Ways to Make Vegetables the Star
- Salad in the Pink: Make a leafy green salad. Add in roasted beets and pomegranate. Drizzle with a dressing made by whirling together in the blender: 1/8 cup white vinegar, 1/8 cup sugar (or alternate sweetener of your choice), 1/3 of a small red onion chopped, ½ tsp dry mustard powder or Dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp water, ¼ tsp salt and ½ cup vegetable oil.
- Roasted Vegetables in a Maple Balsamic Dressing: Peel, chop and toss 2-3 vegetables like beets, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots or squash in a little olive oil. Roast. Drizzle with this amazing dressing from Whitewater Cooks by Shelley Adams (2005): 1 Tbsp maple syrup, 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 clove garlic minced, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper and ½ cup olive oil. You could even present these as mini vegetable skewers as an appetizer.
- A crudité platter of ‘fancy’ vegetables: Attractively arrange vegetables you may not normally put on veggie platter like lightly steamed green beans, asparagus or beet coins, crinkle cut cucumbers or carrots, jicama sticks and garnish with pomegranate seeds. Serve instead of bread with a lightened-up Spinach Dip: Stir together ½ package (150 g) thawed, chopped, spinach, ½ cup chopped water chestnuts, 1 green onion, ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt and 2 Tbsp light mayo.
And in the true spirit of the 80-20 Rule, when you do go for the decadent sweet treats, make it worthwhile. Apply the Pleasure Maximization Principle and choose your absolute favourite, top notch treats in a portion-smart amount that really satisfy.
PS – To see this story on CTV Morning Live Vancouver, click here