As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to all of the good food we will be eating, and sometimes cooking, while we celebrate. At the same time, as we age, some of us are on different kinds of special diets, either because we want/need to lose weight, or because we have health issues that require a special diet, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. With all of the temptations around this time of year, we often feel as if we can’t fight it so we give in to “pigging out” while we have these great opportunities. Many times afterwards we feel stuffed and uncomfortable, guilty, fatigued, and recognize that we probably have gained some weight after fighting all year to lose it!
Dietitians and other nutritionists have developed several ways to counter our desire to overeat. Some of these ideas are good ones because they put us in control of how we approach the buffet or dinner table. Note that the idea is not that we can’t have the delicious foods that we have been waiting for all year, but rather that we carefully plan ahead of time before we sit down to a feast so that we can be in control of what we are eating.
There are some tricks to not stuffing ourselves, and if we plan ahead, we can use them to stop ourselves from overeating.
• Eat a lighter meal at lunchtime if the main holiday meal is dinner; or eat a smaller breakfast if the meal is mid-afternoon.
• About an hour before the main meal, have a healthy snack, one that you really enjoy, so you don’t feel really hungry when you sit down for the meal. For example, some almonds, yogurt, veggies with hummus, an apple or other fruit make great snacks.
• When we make our selections, we need to pick a well-balanced assortment of foods, which will include salads, vegetables and other healthy choices. It’s tough to leave the breads and starches behind, but we can chose not to load up on them and certainly not slather everything with butter and too much gravy.
• At the table we need to pace ourselves rather than eating as quickly as we can. If we rush while we are eating we actually miss some of the joys of “relishing” the meal with all of its smells and textures. This also gives the brain a chance to tell us when we are really full so we don’t keep eating.
• It’s good to set the limit of alcohol we are going to drink in advance of the meal because alcohol is loaded with calories. For example, “I am having two drinks - one before the meal if offered, and one during the meal, and that’s it!” We forget that even with non-alcoholic drinks, the calories can be over the top – take a look at the calories in egg nog, hot chocolates with whipped cream, and more.
• If we are the ones cooking, we can still make favorites but with an eye on healthy eating. For example, instead of making a prime rib or ham, make a turkey. Use a brown rice stuffing instead of a bread stuffing. Mash turnips instead of potatoes, or make some of both. Make two desserts, one that is a healthier choice, such as a grilled fresh fruit medley with a warm no fat yogurt sauce.
If the worst happens and we end up losing control and overeating, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. Just try again at the next holiday meal and try to get back on track with healthy eating as quickly as possible. Since we all want to stay as healthy as we can and live with the best quality of life, not pigging out is just another way to help us do just that.