I love this time of year. The weather is getting a bit cooler, Thanksgiving is around the corner. Closely followed by the onset of holiday cheer, office parties, family gatherings and of course, lots of food and drink!
This is the time of year that many people tend to overeat and drink too much. The human willpower will typically wane between now and the end of the year. Getting through Thanksgiving and the holiday parties can wreak havoc on the waistline!
Avoid the dreaded "holiday pounds"
The New England Journal of Medicine did a study with participants in various countries on weight gain over the holidays. In the United States, weight started to increase from November until January and it took 5 months for participants to recover from the gained weight and get back to pre-holiday weight. In all the countries studied, weight gain occurred during national holidays and took the participants between 5-7 months to get back to pre-holiday weight.
Wow! Makes me think twice before going for a second helping. However, with a few strategies, we can enjoy ourselves and not succumb to the expanded belt line.
“Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
― Sun Tzu
So if you’ll be attending lunches, dinners and parties where there’ll be food and drink coming out of the ying-yang, here are a few of my strategies (in no particular order) to get you through the holidays without overeating.
Tips to avoid overeating
Minimize the importance of the food. Yes, food plays a large part in holiday festivities. But more importantly, the holidays are about getting together with people we don’t socialize enough with or see too often. Focus on the present and being present with people.
Challenge: Show up. Be fully present. Engage and ask deeper questions. Listen. Be genuinely interested. Put your digital device out of reach. Pick at least one person and learn something new about them. Go beyond the usual “How’s it going?” or “How’s work?” or “How are the kids?” Go a few levels deeper.
Be grateful daily. Most of us are extremely lucky to have food on our table and family/friends to gather with during the holidays. Sometimes we may take this for granted. During the holidays, when surrounded by all the good eats, it can be easy to overindulge. So, try practicing gratitude for what you have and the people in your life in those moments.
In fact, many scientific studies say that daily gratitude not only makes you feel better as a person, it’s actually good for your heart health, decreases inflammation, boosts your immune system, lessens depressed mood and fatigue, improves sleep and reduces the effect of aging the brain.
Find ways to express your gratitude, such as volunteering your time, helping someone in need, tell someone you care about them, etc. Not only will these small acts refocus what’s most important during the holidays (and every other day), but it actually improves your health. That’s a win-win!
Challenge: Volunteer at food banks/shelters/soup kitchens. Be the leader and organize a group volunteer by taking your friends/family with you.
Make the veggies the main on your plate. Make your plate colourful – eat the rainbow as they say. Here’s what to do:
- Fill half your plate with the veggies first (preferably non-starchy veggies). Veggies portions should be the size of your fist.
- Add protein (chicken, turkey, red meat, pork, fish, eggs, or plant source) - 1-2 palm size (men), ½-1 palm size (women).
- Add carbs (sweet potato, whole grains), 1-2 cupped hand size (men), ½-1 cupped hand size (women).
- Add fats (healthy oils, avocado, olives, nuts, seeds), about a thumb size.
Challenge: Try using smaller plates (8-9 inches) for you entrée. If only large plates are available, leave some blank space on the plate. No need to fill the plate to the brim (make sure you can see the plate itself☺).
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Appreciate your food. Many of us simply dive right into our plates. Be mindful that another living thing (animal or plant) died so that you can eat it.
Challenge: Take a moment, look at your plate of food and truly enjoy what you see, smell and taste. Think about where the food came from, who grew it, what did it take for the food to get from farm to your plate? Appreciate all of that. Think quietly in your mind “I’m thankful for the sacrifices made for this food. I will only eat what I need and not waste any good food.”
Chew your food. This may sound odd, but so many of us hoover our food and eat way too fast. Slow it down. Taste, smell and savor your bites. I’ve tested this on myself over the years and depending on what I’m chowing down, I end up eating between 10-30% less, I take between 20-30 minutes to eat a meal, and I feel less bloated. The process of digestion is hard on the body, so by you chewing more and breaking down the food, it helps the stomach and digestive system absorb more of the good nutrients from the food and not let it go to waste (literally).
Challenge: Starting today, chew your food until it liquefies before swallowing. Put your utensils down between bites. Focus on conversations between bites. Watch your watch and take at least 20 minutes to eat your meal.
Stop eating at 80% full. This will be easier to determine when you eat slowly and give your stomach that 20 minutes to signal to your brain that it’s getting full. Fun fact: Your stomach holds approximately 4 cups (or roughly the size of your fist).
Challenge: Start training your brain and stomach today. Practice what it feels like to be 80% full, then stop eating. Walk away from the food for 10 minutes if you must and the urge to stuff yourself to 100%+ fullness will dissipate.
Water, please. If you’ll be drinking alcohol, moderate your consumption and always have a glass of water with you. Take a sip of water between each sip of alcohol. This will slow down your consumption rate and avoid the dreaded hangover the next day. If you don’t drink alcohol, watch out for sugary drinks. There are a ton of calories hidden in those sweet drinks. Alternate with water.
Moderate alcohol for healthy adults:
Women (all ages) and Men (65+) - Up to one drink/day
Men (65 and younger) – Up to two drinks/day
In the United States, a standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:
12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol content
5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol content
1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with 40 percent alcohol content
Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Challenge: Ladies and Gents, try to stick to the guidelines above.
Challenge: Offer to help the host in the kitchen or elsewhere. Keep an eye out for what needs to be done (you don’t need to ask to help tidy up, take out trash, refill other’s drinks, play with the kids, etc.)
Challenge: Chew gum or have some mints between hors d'oeuvres and dinner. This keeps your mouth busy so you avoid overeating when you’re not really hungry.
Have an accountability partner. If you’re watching your weight and have an accountability partner, let that person know that you may be reaching out at some point to check-in. If necessary, talk through any food challenges you may be experiencing. Or it can be a simple touch base. It doesn’t matter. It’s the act of calling/texting and knowing that you’re accountable that’s important.
Challenge: Call your accountability partner vs texting. Make it more personal and have a live conversation if possible.
Give yourself a time-out. This gives your brain and body a physical break from the food and drinks. This strategy works very well for all kinds of situations where you are doing something for an hour or more. I use this strategy every day to give myself that 5-minute break for space. Space to breathe. Space to move. Then come back to whatever I was doing refreshed.
Challenge: Take a 5-minute break away from the party and think about what you’re grateful for. Find a quiet place or go for a walk outside or offer to walk a pet or call your accountability partner.
Respect your body. Eat well and be choosy about what goes in your body. Think about every bite/drink as a positive or negative to your body. Try to avoid processed food (e.g. didn’t come from Mother Nature). These foods have little nutritional value, so you'll be eating a lot of calories and not getting any real benefit in return.
Challenge: Repeat this mantra in mind whenever tempted by junk food. “My body is not a garbage disposal, so I don’t eat garbage food. I respect myself. Walk away.”
The above are simply guidelines to help you avoid gaining unwanted weight during the holidays or at any other time during the year.
So, forget about the New Year’s resolution to “lose weight”. Start incorporating tiny healthy eating habits today. Getting lean starts in the kitchen. There is no disputing that scientific fact. Feed your body well today and give it the best chance to be strong and healthy for you in the long-run.
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