The holidays are here and so are fun holiday parties and get-togethers involving delicious food. As fun as this time of year is, it can also induce a bit of anxiety in those who are trying to watch their weight. Brian Wansink, a Food Psychologist and researcher out of Cornell University, states that the "holiday eating environment directly encourages overconsumption," because it involves parties with long eating durations, friends and relatives (eating with others often results in overeating), and a multitude of distractions. This is why it's important to be extra mindful when it comes to food choices and portion sizes at this time of year. As such, the internet is buzzing with blog posts and articles on how to "watch your waistline during the holidays," or how to "eat without guilt at holiday parties," but all too often, the advice offered is repetitive and can actually hinder your weight loss efforts rather than help.
Here are five classic tips doled out around this time of year, and five reasons why you should ignore them (and what to do instead!):
Most people unconsciously "save up" for dinners out or for parties where food and alcohol are served. Here's the thing: If you skimp during the day, thinking that you'll just shift your calorie intake to later in the day at the holiday party (it will all even out, right?), you are setting yourself up to overeat and feel guilty (and your calorie intake will likely be much more). While it's good to go in with a plan, that plan should involve setting yourself up for success. Walking into a party feeling comfortable, energized, and in control will help you to mindfully navigate the buffet table and treats, choose wisely, and not overdo it.
Always eat a breakfast that includes some protein (eg. Greek yogurt, eggs, milk, cottage cheese). Not only is there literature to support the fact that a protein-rich breakfast wards off unhealthy snacking later in the day, but eating breakfast also kick starts your metabolic rate, gives you energy and will likely set your eating day on the right track. Eating every 3-4 hours thereafter will help to keep your blood sugar level stable and will help with your decision-making capabilities (specifically about food) later on at the party or dinner. Having a snack such as veggie sticks with hummus, greek yogurt and an apple or a glass of milk prior to a party or dinner will help you to feel more in control once you get there. You'll also be more mindful with your choices and the amount that you eat.
I'm all about replacing white flour with whole grain flour and cutting down on the butter and sugar with those cookie and muffin recipes that you make year-round. But some things are sacred, and holiday recipes are one of those things. Unless you have come up with a deliciously lower calorie version of one of your holiday favourites (where you honestly can't tell the difference), don't sacrifice your favourite rich and wonderful once-a-year indulgence for the sake of saved calories. You can save by having a smaller portion size of the real thing, or by by-passing foods that are just "so so" and not really worth it anyway. The holidays are for enjoying those favourite foods that you don't normally indulge in throughout the year. Enjoy mindfully and don't feel guilty about it!
I get the logic behind this one: take a bit of everything so that you don't over-indulge on one thing...or or something like that. But, there's also a dark side to having a lot of variety in front of you. Much the same as standing in front of a giant buffet table with hundreds of yummy foods staring back at you, having dozens of little samplings of foods on your plate will almost always lead you to overeat. There have been numerous studies across all age groups proving that more food variety leads to increased consumption (this is why having more variety on your picky eater's plate often helps them to eat more), therefore, more choices on your plate at a party will likely result in more calories eaten overall. Instead, become a picky eater at holiday events. Only choose those foods that you know you love (in small but satisfying portions) and leave the rest. When it comes to healthier fair such as vegetables, take the opposite approach (serve yourself lots of variety here), which will help you eat more.
While I'm all about staying hydrated and avoiding mindless eating, I do not believe that suppressing physical hunger cues is a good approach to weight management. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you suppress true hunger signals, they will only come back to bite you at warp speed later on, which--you guessed it--will likely lead to overconsumption when you do eventually give in. Instead, eat when you start to feel hungry (before you become over-hungry) and stop when you're comfortably full. When you're comfortably full, put your napkin on your plate and push it away from you slightly or move yourself away from the buffet table so that food is out of sight. This is where having a beverage in your dominating hand or chewing a piece of gum might come in handy (keeping you from mindlessly eating beyond comfortable fullness.
This is also known as the "last supper" mentality. Get it in now, while you can, right? If you think this way about food, you will always over eat and if you think this way over and over again, your weight will continue to creep up and up (this is often the mentality of chronic dieters). Many first-time clients confess to me that they over-indulged the day before their appointment with me because they thought I'd restrict their calories. When they realize that my food philosophy is more inclusive than restrictive, they often regret their "last supper." Whenever we feel that there will be deprivation or restriction in the future, we sub-consciously eat more than we otherwise would.
Don't plan to restrict later--you're only setting yourself up for being uncomfortably full and feel an immense amount of regret. Instead, trust your body to be your guide. I often eat a bit more than usual on Christmas Day (probably due to more variety, being around friends and family, celebrating etc.), but then usually end up eating less over the next couple of days (sub-consciously). I don't restrict myself, but rather listen to my natural hunger cues and honour them. If you really tune in to your internal hunger cues (and shut out external cues as best as you can), you'll eat the appropriate amount for you and it will all even out over the week.
Not looking forward to dealing with your picky eater this holiday? Here are five tips to avoid food battles with your kids.
And if you're cooking a traditional Christmas dinner, be sure to check out how to safely thaw your turkey.
If you're looking for advice on feeding kids, picky eating, healthy family-friendly recipes and more, check out my Facebook Page. I'm posting free advice daily!