Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating
Don’t let the holidays put your health in disarray. Use this tip sheet to keep off unwanted pounds, knock out pain conditions, and have a more pleasant holiday season.
The holidays can be stressful, if not horrific for your health. Increased stress about money, depression about family (or lack thereof), and weight gain from hearty and sweet foods can heighten the pain of many conditions. There are things you can do to avoid the negative effects of the season, and you may end up feeling even healthier in the end.
Strike a lighter note with your holiday fair
It’s no surprise that your Christmas dinner is loaded with saturated fats, carbs and high amounts of sugar and sodium, but there are ways to avoid the bad and increase the good. First, plan a meal that has fewer dishes. You may be tempted to sample everything in the buffet line, leading to an overpiled plate of despair. Fewer choices will likely lead to a smaller plate.
When preparing these foods, try replacing butter with light margarine, sugar with Splenda, and heavy stocks with unsalted broths. Alter recipes or find new ones to keep your family healthier, and don’t be afraid to put a new spin on a traditional dish. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the meal, as well, to make sure you are absorbing essential nutrients. Don’t forget the cranberries! They are high in antioxidants and vitamins, and can be conveniently added to many of the recipes on your table.
Portion Control is Key
Whether you are eating at someone else’s home or eating out this year, make conscious choices in your food selections. Portion control is key. Take only one scoop of candied yams or stuffing, instead of three or four, and if you simply can’t resist that slice of pumpkin pie, at least forego the whipped cream.
Holiday meals may be high in fats, sugars, and carbs, but there are many healthy choices available at most Christmas buffet tables. Look for unsugared cranberries, turkey (minus the gravy), sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables.
It can be challenging to avoid cookies and candy over the holidays, as well. If you are the baker or candy maker, sometimes it’s hard to shake tradition. Try making less of these delicacies, or give some of them away as presents, to avoid having them sit on your counter. The more you look at them, the more you are likely to eat them. Perhaps you can plan your recipes to include less sugar, butter and heavy cream than you would normally use. If these foods are gifted to you, share them with others to prevent the urge of eating the entire bag yourself.
Other Healthy Eating Tips
One other tactic to consider is eating several small meals throughout the day, rather than waiting for that huge gorge fest. By eating 4 to 6 small snack sized meals, your metabolism works constantly throughout the day, and doesn’t need to be jump started when a large flood of carbs and fats hits your belly all at once.
You are also more likely to use better judgment when your stomach isn’t making your food decisions. We have all made the mistake of going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, and leaving with an overflowing cart.
Also remember to slow down; it isn’t a race. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to register that you are full, so by shoveling food in too quickly, you don’t give your brain enough time to tell your stomach that it’s going to pop.
Research suggests that our brain registers the first few bites of any food as the tastiest. So, continuing to eat the same food starts to bore your brain, and it stops releasing the wonderful hormones that make us feel good inside. Rather than consuming a slice of every pie on the buffet line, try sampling a bite or two of each item. You will still get all of the wonderful taste, your brain will remain happy and you will have only consumed a fraction of the calories.
By avoiding these foods in excess, you will not only keep your weight in check more easily, but you will also better manage any pain related issues that may be plaguing you this year. Excess weight is bad for your joints and bones, and will likely cause conditions like sciatica to worsen. Excess fats can also damage your heart, high sodium can impact the function of your kidneys and extra sugar can add undue stress to your pancreas. Keep all of this in mind prior to over-indulging at this season’s holiday party.
Walk your butt off, Literally
Obviously, exercise can help you manage your weight, but it can also help treat many ailments that cause pain. Before a big celebratory holiday meal, take a long brisk walk or go to the gym. Treat the meal as a re-fueling of calories or a body repair ceremony. Exercising before a big meal, rather than after, will prepare your body for the intake of excess calories and other non-essentials that are basically trash for your bowels, preventing it all from absorbing into your fat cells and disrupting the smooth operation of your organs and body.
The holidays don’t have to be terrible on your thighs. Keep the weight off by working hard and eating right, and your aching joints will also thank you.
Exercise does not only allow you to effectively manage your weight, it will also help you manage your pain. Exercising helps to increase flexibility and strength of the muscles and joints, leading to less stiffness and a higher range of motion. It also helps to regulate blood flow and may help to reduce inflammation of problem areas.
It is essential, however, that you not push yourself too hard. The guilt of consuming a second piece of pecan pie might be motivation enough to push you beyond your breaking point, but this may take its toll on your health, and leave you in worse shape than you started. Spending the whole day stuck on the couch with an ice pack on your over-extended muscles is no way to spend Christmas. To maximize the benefit of a good workout for weight loss and pain management together, vary your routine. Move from the treadmill to the bike, then work out key areas on weight machines, although it’s best to consult with a physical trainer on what exercises best fit your specific needs.
Working out also releases endorphins, your body’s natural hormones, which help you to feel good and stay on top of your game. Endorphins can help you battle the stress and depression commonly felt during the holiday season. Even if you don’t have time to go for a jog or hit the gym, make a few extra laps through the mall when doing your holiday shopping… and make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
If you do end up eating too much this holiday season, that doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel. Read our guide for detoxing after a holiday meal.