Holiday Overeating: Guilt-Free Fulfilment — Suggestions For Choosing Healthier Foods

A common stigma tends to surface around this time of year — fear of holiday overindulgence and its after-bulge. This year, there’s no need to worry because there’s a plan. After all, New Year’s resolutions are for looking to the future, not compensating for the past.

During the festive season, an abundance of food — its sights and smells — triggers hunger signals causing the need for more fuel to feel sated. The mere presence of so much food works against you. Never mind that most holiday foods are high in fat, sugar, and calories but low in fibre, thus not very satisfying. Add to that social factors like large crowds, music, or hockey games on TV, which affect spontaneous consumption, and it’s no wonder holiday overeating is a problem!

Recall how uncomfortable it feels to overeat: perhaps sluggish or sleepy, guilty or ill. To get through this year’s holiday season in gastrointestinal bliss, learn from past experiences and adapt. Remember, it’s not worth the guilt brought on by setting unreasonable goals when there are already so many additional demands on time and energy. Rather, strategize. Research yummy healthier alternatives to traditional foods, such as hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick instead of eggnog.

If you’ve been losing weight, aim to maintain it over the holidays and resume your program afterwards.

Before a social event, prepare at home. Have a healthy breakfast and lunch the day of a party; an empty stomach leads to ravenous cravings. Include whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and low-fat dairies and proteins like yogurt, cheese, lean meats, and boiled eggs.

If you’re hosting guests, do simple things like letting people add their own salt and skimming fat off gravy. Be creative with your meal. Try wild rice with fresh or frozen cranberries and walnuts instead of mashed potatoes, or quinoa salad instead of stuffing. Experiment with mini desserts.

At gatherings, focus on why you’re there: family, friends, celebration, merriment — not food. Talk to other guests and live in the moment to keep your mouth busy and spirits high. Stand or sit far away from appetizer trays, candy dishes, buffet tables, or chip bowls. Sip water while others talk.

When drinking alcoholic beverages, alternate each one with water to save on calories and sugar, and to retain the ability to sense hunger levels accurately. Stick to red wine, wine spritzers with club soda, or light beer for lower health impacts.

Once it’s time to eat, scan the options; plan ahead to avoid filling your plate with so-so foods before getting to the good stuff. Serve yourself to ensure small portions. Instead of loading up, take a little of everything you love, even if it’s unhealthy. Don’t deprive yourself. Go ahead and eat the holiday foods you fancy — just be aware of how much you’re eating and know when to stop. Moderation takes practise, but once you discover that the first few bites taste best, you’ll want to dazzle your taste buds by sampling many delicious foods.

Choose special holiday treats over every day favourites. Save the calories for something delectable, leaving room for dessert only if you know it’s something you like. But whatever delights you, savour it. Eat slowly, chewing every bite thoroughly before swallowing. Set your fork down between bites and sip water to feel full faster. Talk to your neighbours. Eating slowly allows time to feel full, and though it takes longer, you’ll eat less.

During the meal, keep tempting dishes away once you’ve taken some to refrain from automatically grabbing seconds. At buffets, use small plates, returning more frequently. Once you’re finished eating, leave the table. Wait twenty minutes before deciding whether you want seconds. Brush your teeth to dull your taste buds and suggest a walk. Others will happily join to stimulate digestive systems and burn calories. Hosts can give away leftovers.

To stay strong throughout the holiday season, focus on your overall health. Take breaks. Nurture your well-being by spending time with family and friends. Sleep well. Get lots of exposure to natural sunlight to boost mood and circumvent emotional eating. If you do overeat, notice how you’re feeling. The consequences of overeating just might prevent you from doing it again. But don’t rebuke yourself! No sense feeling guilty for what’s done — move forward. Wait until you’re hungry to eat again — your next meal may be at an irregular time. Your body will readjust as you return to your regular routine. Get some exercise, but remember that it isn’t punishment! Be physically active in ways you enjoy for an energy and mood boost. You’ll thank yourself at the next party.

Don’t spend the jolly season obsessed with food. For stress-free holidays, develop a strategy and predict obstacles. If all else fails, listen to your body’s clues and cues; it’s never wrong.

Potential Holiday Troublemakers

Everyone should get to indulge a little, but keep in mind that this holiday fare can be unhealthy.

Candied and salted nutsSugar and/or salt
Cheese ballSaturated fats
Peanut brittleCorn syrup, sugar
Spinach dipMayonnaise
Cheese fondueSalt, saturated fat
Main Dishes and Sides
Swedish meatballsHeavy cream
StuffingHigh-fat meats like sausage
Candied yamsSugar, marshmallows
PoultrySkin, dark meat
Yorkshire puddingSalt, animal fat
Glazed hamSalt, sugar
Mashed potatoesSalt, butter, cream
Creamy dips and dressingsSaturated fats, salt
Canned cranberry sauceSugar
EggnogSugar, cream
Mulled wineSugar
Wine coolers and hard lemonadesSugar
Hot buttered rumButter, sugar
Pecan pieCorn syrup, sugar
CheesecakeSugar, full-fat cream cheese
Sugar cookiesWhite flour, sugar
Butter tartsSugar, butter, white flour, lard
ShortbreadSugar, white flour
FruitcakeSugar, corn syrup
Yule logCream
Gingerbread housesFrosting, candy décor
Gingerbread cakeButtermilk, sugar
Plum puddingMolasses, candied fruit, sugar
TrifleSugar, condensed milk, cream

Holiday Health Savers

For hosts, potlucks, contributions, or gifts, you can modify most recipes easily for healthier lip-smacking.

Butter, margarineOlive oil
Whole eggsEgg whites only
Margarine, salted butterUnsalted butter
All-purpose flourHalf whole-wheat, half all-purpose flour
Creams, full-fat milksSkim milk
Cream cheese, mayonnaiseLight versions
Sour creamPlain low-fat yogurt
White or brown sugarOrganic cane sugar, local maple sugar
Sweeteners such as corn syrupMaple syrup or honey
Candied/sugared/salted dried fruit and nutsPlain versions
Creamy dipsSalsa, hummus, black bean and lime dip
Canned cranberry sauceHomemade sauce with fresh/frozen berries
Milk chocolateDark unsweetened chocolate
LardVegetable shortening
SugarFlavouring (ginger, cinnamon, orange juice)
BoilingSteaming, roasting

Holiday Overeating originally appeared in the December 2012-January 2013 issue of Simplified Living Magazine.