Healthy Holiday Eating
by Dr. Kushwaha is Chief Medical Officer of Greater Southwest Medical Associates
The holidays are just around the corner, a time when we usually think about getting together with our friends and family to celebrate the season. Of course, we also think about the stress and weight gain that may come with the holidays, but that doesn’t have to be the case! Here are a few tips that will keep things in perspective so we can focus on celebrating good times while avoiding the shock on the bathroom scale come January.
1. Keep realistic expectations. The holidays are not the time to start a diet. For most people, trying to lose weight this time of year will be doomed to failure and just adds to the stress. Instead, make it a goal to simply maintain your weight and you will be less frustrated and maybe even pleasantly surprised.
2. Make time for exercise. Unlike diets, you can start a sensible exercise program any time of year. But the holiday season is hectic, so it’ll take extra planning to make sure you get your work outs in and keep a routine. Sticking to an exercise routine will help you deal with stress and weight gain not only during the holidays but well into the New Year.
3. Don’t drink your calories. Remember, alcoholic beverages are usually high in calories, so limit the number of alcoholic drinks. This is also a good time to cut down on sugary sodas and other drinks that simply add more empty calories. There are healthier alternatives that hydrate you better without the calories. Water is the healthiest no calorie drink!
4. It’s not all about food. Plan activities with friends and family that don’t involve making or eating treats. Focusing on activities takes the spotlight off food and onto calorie burning and fun.
5. Keep healthy eating habits. Avoid skipping meals; you’ll only be more driven to overeat later in the day. To curb your appetite, try frequent small, healthy snacks throughout the day. Stock up on healthy snacks to make it easy for you. Snack sized baggies full of fresh veggies and fruit in the fridge make great snacks. Eat until you are satisfied, not until you are full. You don’t necessarily need to have forbidden foods – you can still treat yourself using the right portion sizes. Slow down and savor your favorite foods that aren’t on the healthy list so that you’ll enjoy more with less.
6. Take damage control. If you do overdo it at a meal, you can eat lighter on the next, but avoid the temptation to completely skip a meal, otherwise, your appetite will get the better of you later! Also, if you know you have an upcoming high calorie event you can’t get out of, eating healthy for the days before will minimize the damage.
7. Prepare for parties. Have a healthy snack before going to a party to keep your appetite in check. Once you get there, survey the food to decide what, and how much, you want to eat, much like planning on a budget. Choose your favorite foods with the right portion sizes and try to balance with fruits and vegetables. Make the most of your calories by not eating what you don’t really want.
8. Sugar is not your friend. Sugar is an empty calorie and high sugar foods lead to the familiar cycle of sugar high followed by the sugar crash. Sweet foods also have a tendency to increase appetite, even those sugar-free foods or drinks sweetened with low calorie sweeteners. Healthier alternatives to sweeteners include vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, or even fresh fruit. Stevia extract is a natural and versatile sweetener you can use in hot or cold foods and beverages. You cut down on some or all of the sugar with these alternatives to lighten the calorie load without sacrificing taste.
9. Cut the salt. A number of health conditions are very sensitive to salt including high blood pressure and especially congestive heart failure. A salty meal is never worth a trip to the hospital, yet I see that in my line of work all too frequently this time of year. There are a number of healthier alternatives to table salt including seasoned salts, fresh herbs, flavored vinegar, or spices such as cayenne which all add bold flavors to replace salt. You can also try salt substitutes containing potassium instead of sodium. Most people will not notice simply reducing salt in popular recipes by half even without any other changes.
10. Be non-traditional. In your holiday dishes, at least. Update your holiday recipes to use healthy ingredients like skim milk and low fat dairy products, unsweetened fruit puree, skinless poultry, lean meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider dessert toppings with nuts and fresh fruit instead of cream and frosting. You can trim large amounts of fat calories by baking or grilling instead of frying. Steam vegetables to get the most nutrients from them without adding extra fat and calories.
Dr. Kushwaha is Chief Medical Officer of Greater Southwest Medical Associates. He specializes in hospital medicine and has been in practice for the past fourteen years. He trained at Baylor in Dallas then practiced in North Carolina where he served on academic staff at Duke University Medical School. Dr. Kushwaha is on staff with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southlake.