Doc’s Corner

12 TIPS FOR HOLIDAY EATING 2019

It is easy to get carried away during the holiday season. The feasts and parties that mark it can tax the arteries and strain the waistline.  Fear of residual weight gain dampens the mood for many health-conscious individuals throughout the season…and it’s with good reason! On average, we consume 4,500 calories at a holiday gathering, according to the Calorie Control Council. You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or take your treats with a side order of guilt. Instead, by taking a proactive approach to eating and cooking, you can come through the holidays without making “go on a diet” one of your New Year’s resolutions. Consider the following:

1 DON’T ABUSE THE PARTY ATTITUDE

Holiday cheer is wonderful, but it can disrupt portion control. Many people rationalize splurging on treats during the holiday season by convincing themselves that it’s OK because it’s a special occasion.  That free-for-all attitude makes it easy to add thousands of calories to your plate. While occasional splurging isn’t typically harmful, avoid the tendency to turn one feast into a month-long party.

2 USE SMALL PLATES

Standard dinner plate sizes have gradually increased over the years. If you use jumbo dinner plates, you’re likely to eat jumbo portions of rich food. Today’s plentiful food options also make it difficult to eat healthy amounts. Instead swap in smaller plates that are typically reserved for appetizers and salads. Try only taking three items at a time and make sure that you can still see your plate under the food. You should have a layer of food, not a mountain.

3 DON’T SIT (OR STAND) TOO CLOSE TO FOOD

If you’ve ever experienced hunger pangs at the smell of fresh-baked cookies, you know just how powerful sensory temptation can be. It can be hard to resist temptation when you’re surrounded by an abundance of food. A study of 464 college students, published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, showed that sitting near desserts increases the size and quantity of diners’ sweets choices. In other words, a bit of distance goes a long way. And if your feast is loaded with vegetables and other healthy fare, you might be able to get away with moderate calorie intake.

4 FILL UP WITH FIBER

Don’t arrive with an empty tank. Before setting out for a party, eat something so you don’t arrive famished. Take in some fiber such as pre-party snacks like apple slices, almonds or walnuts or complex carbohydrates with protein. In addition to promoting digestion function, fiber boosts appetite control by increasing satiation and promoting blood sugar control. Many traditional holiday dishes, such as dinner rolls, cookies, candy and pies, contain little to no fiber, making them particularly easy to overeat. For more fiber at your holiday meal, serve baked sweet potatoes instead of conventional mashed potatoes, and swap out white rolls for 100 percent whole-grain. Cooked greens, whole-grain stuffing, beans and lentils are also fiber-rich.

5 CAREFUL WITH BUTTER

The average person could consume the fat equivalent of three sticks of butter at a holiday feast. Adding a tablespoon of butter to your mashed potatoes and another to your dinner roll — both of which likely already contain butter — adds more than 200 calories and nearly 100 percent of your daily saturated fat limit to your plate. Butter also contributes a significant amount of fat and calories to gravy, pie crusts, cookies, roasts, cooked vegetables and creamy sauces. But you can still have buttery treats you love without going overboard, according to Minh-Hai Alex, a registered dietitian in Seattle. “Prioritize what you truly love to eat and skip what you don’t love,” she says.

6 BE CAREFUL NOT TO BELIEVE ANY DISH WITH FRUITS OR VEGETABLES = HEALTHY

Many seemingly nutritious foods can increase your calorie intake significantly. A prime example is cranberry sides. Most cranberry sides are packed with excessive sugars and fake ingredients. The same holds true for canned yams and fruits packed with sugar or corn syrup. In addition to adding calories, the added sweeteners can spike your blood sugar, leading to appetite increases. When possible, choose fresh or frozen (no sugar added) fruits and veggies over canned varieties. One cup of fresh cranberries contains only 46 calories. In comparison, a half-cup serving of jellied cranberry sauce contains 220 calories.

7 CAUTIOUS USE OF SAUCES AND GRAVY

Depending on the ingredients, turkey gravy provides 30 to 100 calories per serving. This may not seem high, but it can nearly double the calorie content of a single serving of white-meat turkey. Cheese sauces can contain up to 100 calories per quarter-cup, taking the calorie content of healthy fare, such as fresh veggie sticks and apple slices, from light to lofty. It’s better to dip foods into sauces than to pour the sauces over the top. Think of sauces as you would salad dressing and choose to have them “on the side” and portion them lightly. And to reduce the richness of gravy, refrigerate it and then skim the solidified fat off the top. Fruit and veggies make great snacks and side dishes and are tasty with no or minimal sauce.

8 KEEP TOPPINGS TO A MINIMUM

Sweet toppings can add ample calories and virtually no nutrients to holiday dishes. The marshmallows on top of those yams or the whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie are killer. Two tablespoons of marshmallow cream adds another 40 calories to yams. Suggest skipping the marshmallow and whipped creams. Real, whole foods taste just as good without all of the excessive toppings. If you must have your sweet, creamy topping, use modest amounts.

9 AVOID EATING LIGHT AND FEASTING ON DESSERT

Holiday desserts can easily match or surpass the calorie content of an entire meal. One slice of pecan pie, for example, supplies more than 500 calories. A scoop of ice cream and a dollop of whipped topping can bring that pie slice up to about 700 calories. Apple pie contains more than 250 calories per slice, and pumpkin pie has around 325 calories. Trimming your dessert sizes to half-slices or taking bite-sized nibbles of a few options can help keep your caloric intake more reasonable.

10 AVOID ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING

If you think dessert is your holiday health’s worst enemy, think again. The all-or-nothing mindset of dieting itself may pose greater risks. Ironically, dieters are at higher risk for getting painfully stuffed during holiday celebrations because the diet mentality increases the risk of all-or-nothing thinking. A few decadent bites of food you normally avoid might seem like a failure, leading you to think, “What the heck? I’ve already blown it,”  In some cases, overeating becomes a form of self-punishment for poor eating and prompts desires to starve afterward, triggering a cycle of overeating, under-eating and eventual weight gain.

11 LIMIT CALORIES FROM DRINKING

Holiday drinks can be deceptively rich. In addition to providing less satiation and similar amounts of calories as food, sugary drinks, including eggnog, cocktails and juices, can offset your blood sugar and appetite control. Alcohol can make overeating a near given, because it inhibits your ability to remain conscientious about your food intake. A White Russian drink can add 500 calories and eggnog, 300 calories.

Enjoying a drink with friends is a relaxing way to unwind. And in moderation, drinking alcohol may have some benefits for you. Moderate alcohol intake means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. Regularly drinking more than this can have deleterious effects on health, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease and some types of cancers. It also matters what you drink! Many cocktails are loaded with added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.

12 CONTROL STRESS

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to overeating and weight gain during the holidays and throughout the season. Stress causes your body to produce the hormone cortisol, which leads to appetite increases and weight gain. You may also crave calorie-rich foods because they bring emotional comfort and trigger the release of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain. Instead of stressing over calories, you should amp up self-care. Relaxation and decreasing/managing stress can help support digestion and make it easier to connect with your body’s internal cues to support more attuned eating. Focusing on “what you know“ and “can controll”, is an effective approach to reduce “worry” and “frustration”, major contributors to situational stress.  Obtaining adequate sleep routines is critical to help manage stress and control weight gain. Keeping up with regular exercise routines during the holidays is a strategic component to manage stress and burn off some of those “extra calories”.

Your questions and comments are welcome at drpblock@gmail.com.

Ref. Harvard Health Edu

Paul R. Block, MD. FACP, FCCP


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