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Healthy Holiday Eating

Jan 17, 2013

Healthy for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is behind us and we’ve got a few weeks left until Christmas and New Years. For most Americans, this time is filled with parties. We usually meet with our co-workers, friends, and family members to rejoice and celebrate. These traditions are fantastic but can be highly problematic for those seeking to lose weight as the food choices are often far from optimal and we are generally encouraged to overeat. The six-weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas has been shown to be the period of time where Americans gain half of their annual weight gain. This is a very sobering statistic. The same study shows that while some of this weight is lost in January, most of it is kept on throughout the year. This is a recipe for continued weight gain throughout the years. Those who suffer most from this are people who are already overweight or obese. Their body fat set-point is already high and they generally have a hormonal imbalance which sets up a fat gain cascade. We can, however, be empowered with superior strategies and information to combat this weight gain and still enjoy the holidays.

Firstly, if we create an emphasis and focus on real, unprocessed foods we will be far less likely to suffer from the ill health and fat gain generally associated with this holiday period. Real food items are highly nutritious and satiating; making them incredibly hard to overeat. It would be tough to imagine eating inordinate amounts of protein, starchy and non-starchy vegetables. While we can get full from these, it isn’t as much food as if we were eating cookies, cakes, and pies to satiety. When you sit down for a meal, focus on finding a protein source. Ham, turkey, steak, chicken, salmon, eggs. etc. This allows you to have nutrient-dense and satiating food as a large part of your meal. The rest of your plate can be filled with various vegetables, starchy and non-starchy. We can usually find potato or sweet potato as our nutritious starchy carbohydrate source. The rest of the place can be filled with various salads or just cooked and raw vegetables. This allows you to maximize nutrition and satiety. You will not find yourself hungry afterwards and will be improving your health with these meals.

While the holiday meals can be a great and easy way to eat healthy food around loved ones, they are also rife with unhealthy food items. The holidays have traditions that predispose us to think that we must have pies, cakes, and cookies. These foods, while certainly delicious, can be highly problematic for those trying to lose weight or not gain any. They contain almost no healthy ingredients. Just look at what goes into making these desserts. Refined flour, refined sugar, sweetened cream, and refined oils. When we eat these highly palatable foods, reward centers in our brain light up due to the sweet flavors. We will not get very full from them as anyone who has eaten a plate of cookies can atest to. They may satisfy cravings for something sweet but do so in a very unhealthy way. To remedy this, try to eat healthy desserts. A fruit plate can be a great and satisfying end to your dinner. The traditional cookies and cakes can all be made with healthier ingredients, try substituting almond flour in place of refined, wheat flour, use coconut oil in place of margarine, and sweeten with high quality honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. Using these ingredients doesn’t give you a license to overeat but simply allows the dessert to become more healthy.

The strategies we employ for eating our meals are also highly important. For big family dinners, we generally expect and are expected to eat a lot. This is normal as we are with loved ones and want to enjoy ourselves. Conventional nutrition and diet advice tells us to eat a huge breakfast, medium sized lunch, and tiny dinner. This approach would surely set one up for failure during holiday times. Imagine sitting at a beautiful dinner table with your friend and family and thinking that you can only eat 300 calories to stay within your goals. Most, except for the incredible strong willed, would be unable to do this and would splurge on their dinner feast. This will drive a caloric surplus. Multiple days like this can show us why so much fat gain occurs during the holiday period. A better strategy may be to eat lighter during the day. People generally find it easy to eat less during the day, especially if a big dinner is coming. If you have brunch style meal focusing on protein and vegetables, then your dinner can truly be a feast without going over your caloric goals for that day. For those measuring and logging food intake, a great general guideline to use is a 12 calories per pound of bodyweight if trying to lose weight. For maintenance, closer to 15 calories per pound of bodyweight is great approach.

These approaches are great things to keep in mind as preparing for holiday meals. Emphasize real food choices, avoid highly processed and nutrient-poor foods, and eat lighter throughout the day in preparation for your dinner feast. Stay healthy this holiday period and avoid unnecessary weight gain or the ill effects of poor food.


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