HAPPY, HEALTHY HOLIDAYS TO YOU!

‘Tis the season to be merry and light, to be giving and forgiving, to be joyous, feel the peace flowing all around and to look ahead to a new and brighter year.  For most people, this comes effortlessly, and any minor stresses are outweighed by the joy.  It is indeed a magical time of year, when the spirit of giving and the memories of the holiday thrills of childhood are savored.

The gifts are bought, the parties are scheduled, the menus are planned, and the spirit of joy flows.  The kids are giddy—and some of the adults are too.  We begin to celebrate weeks ahead of time by shopping, decorating, writing cards, planning meals and sharing our joy.

We humans, as a group, share food too.

This is the time of year when plates of candy and cookies show up at our door or in the break room of the office.  This is the time of year the television and internet commercials bombard us with images of delicious, seemingly irresistible goodies.  This is the time of year when we consume large, delicious holiday meals with our family and friends.

And we should enjoy them.  That is one of the most basic and pleasurable things humans can experience.  These tasty treats please our taste buds, and, if we are lucky, bring back happy memories from a long list of happy holidays past. Eating good food is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Unless, of course, we enjoy them too much, which, unfortunately, many of us do.

Finding a happy medium is the key.  Enjoying these delicious pleasures should be something to look forward to, savor as we consume them, and relish the memory of how good they tasted. This is possible and doable.  In certain amounts, that is.  With the exception of those with severe diabetes, or allergies to certain ingredients, these goodies should not be avoided.  Consuming just enough to enjoy, but not too much so as to overdo it is the balancing act that many of us struggle with.  Even if weight is not an issue for you, then the health factor should be considered:  so many of the holiday treats are not healthy foods, and eating too much of them simply is not good for your health.

Easier said than done. 

How does one achieve the “everything in moderation” goal when it comes to eating holiday treats?  It’s not always easy, but there are tips and strategies you can put to work in your favor if you are mindful of your eating behavior, the degree of nutrition the foods have, and the amount of what you are consuming.  The following list is filled with helpful and, perhaps, novel ways to achieve this

  • Don’t skip meals.  Maintaining your regular meal schedule is essential so that hunger doesn’t overcome you when you are presented with challenges.  Seeing the table of goodies in the office isn’t such a temptation if your stomach is already full of good food from your last meal.
  • Be realistic.  A few pounds gained during this time of year isn’t going to make or break you, and will likely be worth the pleasure you received from eating those tasty treats.  Just know that it is a special time of year, and you will return to your good habits in good time.  Don’t beat yourself up.
  • Maintain or begin an exercise plan.  Don’t skip your regular workout; it is essential more than ever to keep any weight gain at bay or to a minimum.
  • If you overindulge at one meal/party, go light on the next one.  Try to strike a balance between the two meals/parties, or, on a larger scale, if you blow a whole day and overdo it, just take it easy the next.  Try not to adopt a “what the heck” attitude, as if it doesn’t matter anymore what you eat since you’ve already overindulged.  It does.
  • Survey the entire menu/table of treats before you dish up your plate.  Try to take only your most favorite dishes, and in small portions.  You can always go back—or not, and this won’t be your last chance to partake.  There will be tomorrow, and probably the next day, and next week…
  • Keep your time-honored and beloved holiday baking/cooking/eating traditions, but try not to make them the only focus.  Plan a gathering to wrap gifts, make wreaths, write cards, go caroling, or shop for a less-fortunate family.
  • It truly is better to give than to receive.   Bake all those goodies, but give them away to someone who is less fortunate.  Take cookies or candy to a nursing home.  Senior citizens are partial to sweets, as their other taste buds diminish over time, but sweet taste buds remain strongest as we age.
  • Curb your own sweet cravings with something bitter.  If you feel like you can’t resist another cookie or piece of candy, try eating a pickle.  The bitter taste bud will usually trump the sweet taste bud if you satisfy it—keep that jar of pickles handy.
  • Brush your teeth.  That minty-fresh taste will help you resist putting more food in your mouth.
  • Chew gum.   It may be easier to pop a piece of gum or a mint in your mouth instead of brushing if you find yourself tempted at the table.
  • Wear your tightest pants—within reason, of course.  If you keep your midsection swaddled with snug fitting bottoms, you are more easily reminded what happens after you partake.
  • Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.  This can be a gray area, as most of us don’t feel full until long after our stomachs are at their maximum capacity.  It takes about 20 minutes for the feeling of healthy fullness to register, so give yourself a time-out after the first round, and see if you really do need to eat more to honestly be satisfied, instead of stuffing yourself.
  • Put your fork, spoon or finger food down in between bites.  This forces you to focus on the bite in your mouth, not the next bite waiting eagerly on your fork or in your hand.  Savor the flavor, move it slowly around in your mouth, chew it thoroughly, then swallow before you pick up the next bite.  This works all year round too, not just during the holidays!
  • Stand away from the treats table in conversation.  You will be less tempted if you are not looking over your conversation partner’s shoulder at the smorgasbord behind them.
  • Bring a fruit bowl of plate of veggies to the gathering.  You probably won’t win the prize for the favorite dish, but you will be able to choose from your own plate so that you won’t eat only the less-healthy options.  Be sure to eat these first, to fill up as much as you can.  Choose the other healthy options first too, such as nuts or cheese before the sweets.
  • Pay first, enjoy later.  Take a walk around the block before you take your break and head to the dessert table in the break room at work.
  • Be aware of high-calorie drinks.  Fruit-based drinks are often sugar bombs.  They do not take the place of eating fresh fruit.  Other specialty holiday drinks tend to be laden with calories and/or fat.  Of course, alcohol packs a punch in calories too, so be aware of any increased consumption of spirits during the holiday season.
  • Use smaller plates and utensils.  Pick up a plate from the stack of small plates instead of the larger plates.  Filling the smaller plate is obviously better that filling and eating a larger one.  Be aware of bite sizes, as smaller bites are more easily chewed, swallowed and digested.   Again, this works like a charm all year round!
  • Take half of your plate home.  You can enjoy it later, after your stomach has had time to recoup, and perhaps your craving has subsided.  Better yet, save it for tomorrow.
  • Don’t go hungry to the grocery store or the mall.  You will make healthier choices in both places when it comes to making decisions about what to eat at that moment, or when planning menus for the upcoming meals.
  • Find an accountability buddy.  If there is someone in your office or family who consistently demonstrates stellar self-discipline, but yet does enjoy the goodies, watch how they do it.  They don’t even need to know you are watching if you don’t tell them.  If you know someone who struggles as much as you do, set up a plan to touch base daily by phone or text to confess your sins, or to brag about your willpower.  Two willpowers are better than one.  Using them as an exercise partner, if possible, is an excellent way to keep your eating in check, or to work it off if you didn’t.
  • Look online for healthy recipes, or buy a cookbook dedicated to healthy holiday foods.  An online search for “healthy holiday recipes” will yield a wealth of websites that offer recipes that are designed to reduce calories and carbs, and can offer tricks that may painlessly take away some of the calories, carbs and/or fat.  Using skim milk, reducing the amount of eggs in a recipe, clever substitutions that won’t even be noticed and healthy cooking tips are available on many websites.

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If you are blessed to have healthy gums and teeth to chew with, strong muscles to swallow with, and a stomach ready to receive food, consider this a blessing, and enjoy everything you consume.  It truly is a gift, one of the greatest pleasures known to humans, and we are meant to enjoy it all, in moderation, of course.

Happy, healthy holidays to you.