By Camille Platt
Tis the season for full stomachs, full stockings, and full schedules. Holiday parties can set the stage for a memorable winter season. Just don’t make it too memorable by making one of these major food follies.
Heading into a holiday gathering after depriving yourself early in the day is a recipe for exhaustion and overindulgence. You may think you’re banking calories when in fact you’re setting yourself up for a major binge. Skipping a meal leads to a drop in blood sugar, which can affect your brain function and ability to focus. It also makes you irritable and tired. Combine this with hunger, and you may walk into the party too consumed by the idea of food to show restraint.
A better option? “Just eat a lighter breakfast and a smaller lunch,” suggests Jackie Rogers, registered dietitian at CHI Memorial Diabetes and Nutrition Center. The best breakfast is between 300 and 400 calories, with 20 grams of protein and 40 to 55 grams of carbs. Think steel cut oats with nuts and fruit or a scrambled egg in a whole-wheat tortilla with spinach, avocado, and salsa.
Overdoing it on the alcohol.
Here’s the downside of holiday drinks: they are less filling, yet have just as many calories as holiday food. “Even though you may be taking in equal calories, you won’t feel as satisfied,” says Erica Fleming, registered dietitian at Hamilton Health Care System’s Bradley Wellness Center. “Drinking too much can easily lead to overindulgence.”
Drinking alcohol also tends to decrease your inhibitions – so if you drink early on during the party, you may end up overeating or having several drinks. You’ll fare better if you wait to have a single alcoholic beverage once the meal begins. “Limit intake to two drinks for men and one for women, and always pair alcohol with food to slow down absorption,” Rogers recommends.
Arriving hours after food was put out.
Popping in for the tail end of a party is fine, but survey for food safety before making a plate. A dish left at room temperature for more than two hours has reached the danger zone for food poisoning. “When in doubt, throw it out,” says Fleming.
If you know you’re going to arrive late, or are concerned you won’t find foods you like, have a snack before you leave home. “Start with a good source of protein plus a little carb,” suggests Fleming. “You won’t be starving if you can’t find something you like.”
Not making a balanced plate.
Before you dive straight into your favorite casserole, take a minute to peruse the buffet. It’s best to survey the entire spread before fixing your plate. “Get an idea of what’s available, and then go back to the beginning to make sure you’re being balanced,” Fleming says.
Start with fruits and vegetables – which are low in calories, yet filling – before making your way to the higher calorie dishes. When you get to the richer fare, opt for sampling each dish instead of piling up on one. You may need less than you think to feel satisfied. “Often, we just need a bite of a dish to satisfy our taste buds. It doesn’t take the whole dish to curb your craving,” says Fleming.
Not putting first things first.
Once you’ve made your choices, distance yourself from the food table and focus on socializing instead. Be mentally present. Take in the music, the laughter, the lights, the chatter of children, a story being told at the next table. Your experience shouldn’t be solely about the food. “Take your focus off the dishes and redirect it to spending time with the people you care about,” says Fleming.
As you socialize, don’t rush – take small bites and savor the taste of each dish. “Stop frequently to put your fork down between bites and talk and interact,” says Rogers. “Slowing down can trick your brain into thinking you are eating more. Plus, socializing is what the holidays are all about!”
Treating the meal like it’s your last.
It’s tempting to give holiday cookies and cocktails too much power over winter events when these treats will still be around come 2017.
“Many of my patients struggle with foods they get ‘only once a year’ like pumpkin pie or peppermint ice cream, because they get stuck in ‘now or never’ thinking,” says Rogers. “In reality, many of these foods are available for a full three months.”
If this sounds like you, remind yourself that you can replicate your favorite holiday recipes at home in the weeks to come. Why rush? Give yourself permission to limit yourself to a small taste. “It may feel like your last big to-do, but chances are it’s not,” says Fleming, laughing. “Yes, it is a special occasion. But we have so many opportunities to celebrate this time of the year.”
Forgetting to hydrate.
Drinking water before meals is a guaranteed way to control your appetite. “So many times we think we are hungry when in fact the body is dehydrated,” says Fleming.
A study by researchers at Virginia Tech showed drinking 16 ounces of water before meals during a 12-week diet increased weight loss by about 5 pounds. That translates to a stellar method for maintaining your current size in a season when many people put on a few extra pounds.
Make a point to sip water throughout the holiday festivities. You’ll give your hands and lips something to do other than mechanically refilling your plate. If you plan to drink alcohol, drink even more water – hydration will lessen the effects of alcohol in your system and take the edge off an impending hangover. “I also recommend having a glass of water before you drink an alcoholic beverage and another one following,” says Fleming.