Nothing says holidays like a big gathering of friends and family sharing a meal together. However, coordinating meal time with the schedules of all your guests can be challenging. Most social situations involve food, whether it is coffee and pastries, appetizers and drinks, or a sit-down meal. In order to fit all the merriment in, it is not uncommon for people to eat three or four times during the day, with the last one being quite late. We have some suggestions to help you enjoy the festivities this year, without sacrificing the fun, your waistline, or your health. Here are 6 steps to help you “let your afternoon be merry and your evening light”.
1. Ensure a 12-hour fast between your last meal today and your first meal tomorrow
Ideally, we want at least twelve hours to pass between our last meal of the day and the first meal of the next day. Translated, this means you should try to be finished eating by 7:00pm if you plan to eat breakfast the next morning around 7:00am. On a typical day this is easier to manage because many of us have consistent meal times, bed times, and rising times. However, this gets trickier when you throw in holiday festivities like a mid-morning brunch or a dinner that starts at 8pm. The simplest way to make this happen on a day with a non-traditional schedule of festivities is to eat a late breakfast/brunch, say around 10:00am and then an early dinner at around 2 to 3pm, with a light snack around 7 to 8pm.
2. Eat higher calorie meals earlier in the day (breakfast and lunch), ending with a light supper
Holiday dinners and meals at parties often include rich foods that are high in calories. If you plan on eating a meal that is likely to be higher in calories than normal, then your other meals should be adjusted accordingly. Try eating your heavier meal earlier in the day and have just some light snacks in the evening. If your family cannot all gather for a noon time holiday meal, consider eating at an off-time, like 2 or 3 o’clock. Our bodies need a certain number of calories each day. There is not a set rule that we require three meals, with dinner being the largest. In fact, eating your larger meals earlier in the day is better for your body. Try having a light snack in the evening and focus your larger meals for earlier.
3. Keep binge eating at bay by staying properly hydrated
For many people the condition of thirst is often masked as hunger. You may find yourself eating more and more food, when what you actually need is liquid. I try to drink a few glasses of water or few cups of mint tea, green tea, or hot water with lemon over the hours leading up to a holiday meal or outing. You don’t want to arrive at a holiday party thirsty, as you will likely overconsume food as a miscue for hunger. You also don’t want to wait to rehydrate at a party, as the beverages served are usually high in sugar and calories, and often contain alcohol. A little of those beverages is fine, but remember that beverages containing sugar, alcohol or caffeine are not actually hydrating your body. Water and green or herbal teas are what you need for hydration.
4. Choose fruit for a sweet treat instead of candies and cookies
Sweet treats like cookies and candies seem to multiply from October through February. We have holiday after holiday that involves desserts and candies. I encourage you to consider satisfying your sweet cravings with some of the excellent seasonal fruit available. Pomegranates, pears, oranges, and clementines are plentiful this time of year. When I am asked to bring an appetizer or meal item to share at parties, I typically bring fruit kebobs, a platter of sliced apples with a fruit dip, or a bowl of cut-up fresh fruit. Often my fruit offering is one of the first things to be eaten too. This year consider bringing a fruit dish as your item to share. Also, reach for a piece of fruit the next time you have a sweet craving instead of another cookie when you are at home.
5. Load before you go: fill-up on vegetables and protein at home
My number one tip is to eat healthy food and hydrate before you head out to holiday events. Holiday parties are likely to have a plethora of high-fat and high-sugar items, but are often slim for vegetable and lean protein choices. Nothing spells trouble like a table filled with high-calorie appetizers and desserts calling out to a hungry stomach. Try to get a full tummy and hydrated body before you leave, so that at the event you can use your willpower to choose items that are healthier for you and to eat your favorites in smaller quantities. Before you go to a holiday event, make yourself a protein and veggie snack. My favorites are an omelet loaded with fresh chopped veggies, a salad topped with a hardboiled egg and some diced nuts, a fried egg or cooked chicken chopped and sautéed with veggies, or some fresh veggies and hummus. The combination of fiber from the veggies and protein from the chicken, eggs, or nuts will leave you feeling full and less likely to go crazy at the buffet line.
6. Release the guilt
Sharing food is a very social activity. Nothing will dampen your holiday spirit like worrying about food choices. Healthy eating is not meant to be an all or nothing situation. There is still room in your life for some sweets and savory dishes that don’t fit the bill of “health food”. Remember to choose only your favorites and choose smaller portions. Try to really savor the foods you eat, slowing down and enjoying the smell of the food, its appearance, and chewing slowly and thoroughly (about 20 times) to really savor the flavors in the food you are eating. We often feel guilt when we eat “treats” and chew or even gulp them quickly, which leaves us unsatisfied and with cravings for more and more. That is not to say you should eat all the items on the buffets either. If you really stop and think about it, many foods may be tasty but don’t really get you excited. Choose a favorite or two you are going to sample and truly enjoy eating them. For example, I like mashed potatoes and gravy and don’t mind a gluten-free stuffing, but neither are my favorites on the table. I experimented with just passing them over and didn’t miss them at all. I was able to save those calories for items I really do love and not leave the meal feeling overstuffed and full of guilt.
Conclusion: Let Your Afternoon Be Merry and Your Evening Light
Holiday gatherings inevitably involve food and beverages. Blending holiday treats with a healthy lifestyle can feel overwhelming at first. However, this year we encourage you to try implementing our tips to make the holiday snacks, banquets, and buffets easier on your waistline, brain health, and guilt. Stay hydrated, eat your heavier meals earlier in the day, reach for fruit first when craving sweets, have a protein and veggie snack before you go so you aren’t starved and likely to overeat, try to have 12 hours pass between your last food of today and your first of tomorrow, and let go of the guilt and enjoy what you are eating. Holidays are a time for sharing food and fellowship with others. We hope these tips will help you to have an enjoyable and healthy holiday season.
Marci L. Hardy, PhD and the entire AFFIRMATIVhealth team
Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_belchonock’>belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo</a>