A Nutritional Survival Guide to the Festive Season

Studies show that weight gain is real during the holiday period.

When it comes to the holiday season, everyone, even the healthiest among us, finds it hard not to succumb to all the delicious food and treats offered to us during parties, lunches and dinners, not to mention how often we eat out at restaurants. Instead of stressing out and depriving ourselves to the point of frustration, let’s enjoy these festive times by following some nutritional tips.

Do not skip breakfast
Research shows that filling up early with healthy foods that are slowly absorbed, for example, high protein and fibres, will make you feel satiated all day. This means you’re less likely to make bad choices at parties later in the day.

Know your must-haves
A key factor in maintaining a healthy diet throughout the holiday season is moderation. To help you do it, you need to identify your list of must-haves. Skip the calories on foods available to you any day of the year, and instead opt for the ones you can only have during the holiday season, like pumpkin pies, foie gras and chestnuts.

Wear form-fitting clothes
Why should you do this? Registered dietitian Cynthia Sass suggests wearing a belt or something tight will make you more aware of how full you really are.

Remember to stay physically active
Plan physical activities around meals and exercise whenever possible. When you are likely to have a planned post-meal walk or some workout activity scheduled, you are less likely to overeat at a meal. The American Heart Association recommends children (up to age 18) get at least 60 minutes a day and adults 180 minutes a week of moderately vigorous physical activity.

In her article for “Health” Magazine, Alyssa Shaffer noted these eight ways to indulge over the holidays, all the while keeping your weight in check.

Alyssa Shaffer with her family

1. Weigh yourself twice a week
That’s often enough to make sure you stay on track, but also not so that you take all the fun out of holiday noshing, says Michael Dansinger, MD, MS, an Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine. You should step on the scale first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.

2. Learn to say no everywhere
Willpower is like a muscle, work it and you get stronger. What’s key is to practise keeping yourself in check in non-food situations too. “Whether you are driving in rush hour traffic or dealing with a temperamental kid, there are challenges that require self-control,” Dansinger says. If you succeed in not honking at a rude driver, he explains, you will be better able to resist dessert at the party.

3. Don’t swear off desserts
Practice the three-bite rule to keep your sweet tooth in check. Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, author of “The Miracle Carb Diet,” explains, “You will get that amazing first taste, a satisfying middle one, and then a lingering third bite.”

4. Avoid morning-after food
Have the night of your life, then send guests home with food-filled Tupperware. “It’s the leftovers that do you in,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, founder of Foodtrainers in New York City.

5. Cut back on diet soda
In fact, any bubbly beverage can lead to belly bloat, Zuckerbrot explains. “The carbon dioxide trapped in the bubbles of fizzy drinks causes a buildup of air, which can lead to gas.”

6. Brew up a pot of peppermint tea
Research shows peppermint can help calm stomach muscles and reduce gas. If you’re not a fan, try chamomile, suggests Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, author of “Read It Before You Eat It.”

7. Get plenty of potassium
This nutrient counterbalances sodium, so you retain less water, Zuckerbrot explains. The best potassium choices are bananas, kiwis, strawberries and cantaloupe. 

8. Keep calm and kick cravings
Are you stressed by the sight of that holiday spread? Take deep breaths before you grab a plate. Research suggests women who practice stress reduction techniques are able to prevent weight gain. Close your eyes and focus on your reaching for 30 seconds. Then reevaluate whether you really want to fill your plate, chances are you don’t.

Beirut-based Didi Jounblat, a Holistic Nutrition Health Coach and Founder of Wellnest.co, has more suggestions on the topic at hand. “As a holistic nutrition health coach, I always advise my clients to practice ‘mindful eating,’” she says. Here is what she recommends:

  • Eating slowly can help you lose weight because it accelerates the process of being and feeling full while also allowing you to enjoy your food.
  • Chewing your food very well will help you eat less while also making sure that what you are eating is being well digested. She recommends 20 chews per bite.
  • Put your fork down between each bite, it encourages you to slow down and appreciate the taste of the food better.
  • Drink one glass of water before each meal, as doing so will make you feel fuller, which will result in consuming less calories.
  • Always aim to start your meal with a fresh salad. Consuming greens as the first course helps with weight control because you end up filling up on the salad and eat less of the heavier main course.
  • Have a healthy snack before going to lunch or dinner. A handful of nuts will help you in controlling your appetite.  

With all these tips and professional suggestions in hand, happy holidays and healthy eating to all. And from time to time don’t be scared to listen to the legendary American chef, Julia Child, who liked to say, “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”

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