Beginning with the influx of Halloween candy, continuing with the pies and comfort foods served Thanksgiving, and culminating with cookies, chocolates, and other delectable delights of Christmastime, the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time to keep fitness goals on track.
I spoke to cardiologist and weight management specialist Dr. Luiza Petre about advice for navigating the festivities of the season. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: What are the key fundamentals of nutrition to keep in mind during the holiday season?
Dr. Luiza Petre: A traditional holiday meal averages 3,000 calories, just a little short of 1 pound of weight gain. The average American gains 6-8 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas, just to start the New Year with the most popular resolution—to lose weight.
Unfortunately, 90 percent of those self-inflicted diets fail, for many reasons. Most people end up adding those extra pounds from year to year. With this picture in mind, it would be easier if we avoid this weight gain altogether.
Nutrition-wise, we should always focus, regardless of the occasion on grass-fed or organic protein sources, lots of greens, and healthy fats; and avoid sugar, processed foods, and alcohol in excess.
The Epoch Times: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other festive celebrations have a big focus on food. What traditional foods are healthy to eat and what should be avoided?
Dr. Petre: Lean, organic, grass-fed proteins, as well as whole grains and green, leafy vegetables, should be the staple of your daily and holiday eating. So enjoy your turkey, ham, and roast beef while limiting or substituting the mashed potatoes.
The key points to keep in mind are: moderation on portions and elimination of as much sugar as possible while staying processed and preservative-free.
The Epoch Times: The social pressure to partake in the goodies being served makes this time of year especially challenging for those with fitness goals. What advice can you give those feeling the pressure from family or friends?
Dr. Petre: Graciously say no. We all can recall at least one occasion when being told, “please take one more” or “I cooked this for you.” Sometimes “no thank you” can work.
Additionally, focus on people and less on food. Feed your mind with conversations and catch up with friends and family versus feeding your stomach. Make sure that you choose a location far from the food table so that mindless nibbling is not an option.
Eat a protein meal before the party. Do not skip meals just because you have a party and want to ‘save up’ your calories. You will arrive famished and that spells trouble. Never hit a holiday party on an empty stomach.
Alcohol can wreak havoc on your weight. Not only does it add calories, but it also lowers your inhibitions and you wind up eating more. Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage and limit yourself to two drinks per evening.
Eat only half. If you do not want to give up those harmful bites during holidays, you have to pay attention to portions.
Stay Hydrated. Sipping before meals helps dieters consume 90 calories less at each meal. The additional benefit is that water is good for your skin. Staying hydrated also makes you look and feel younger.
Enjoy without guilt. While the holiday season can be a very challenging time of the year, there are smart ways to indulge and not pay the price with weight gain.You can still stay on track. Moderation and planning are key so all those seasonal delicacies can be as enjoyable as ever.
The Epoch Times: When one does overindulge over the holidays, what steps can be taken to get back on track?
Dr. Petre: Try intermittent fasting after your holiday indulgence. Intermittent fasting helps with cravings, mood, and memory. It improves blood sugar levels, decreases the risk of cancer and heart disease, and might help with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I find it helps with weight management too. Fast 14 to, ideally, 16 hours between meals, and eat during an 8–10 hour window.
Your body starts and stays in its fed state while absorbing and digesting food. This lasts 4–5 hours after you begin eating, and during that time, your insulin levels are high and your body does not burn fat. When your body is done processing its meal it can begin to burn fat, as insulin levels are low. You’ll enter a fasting state after 12 hours, which is ideal for fat burning. A normal eating schedule rarely allows you to make it into this fat-burning state. It will make you feel energized and ready for the New Year.
The Epoch Times: What final advice would you give anyone hoping to keep their nutrition on track throughout the holiday season?
Dr. Petre: As with everything, awareness, mindful eating, moderation, and planning are the keys to a healthy holiday season. Making healthy swaps for your family favorites while watching your portions will keep your weight stable and keep you from feeling deprived. So, have smaller portions of the sweet potatoes and cornbread so you can have a small piece of pie or glass of wine.
Continue your exercise routine to stay distressed and help burn any excess calories. If away from your local gym, try walking. Walking will relieve that bloated feeling, aid digestion, improve your mood, and offer a great time to catch up with family and friends. Holiday or not, make it a daily goal to get in your 10,000 steps.
Incorporate some tips below with intermittent fasting and sail through the holiday season feeling healthy with no deprivation.
Satisfying swaps include:
- Sip bone broth throughout the day to stay satiated
- Cauliflower mashed potatoes instead of real
- Instead of nuts, crackers and cheese have low fat/yogurt dips with raw veggies
- Rather than dark meat with skin, have white meat turkey breast—half the calories
- Instead of flour-laden, fatty gravy, make your own bone broth version and add spices
- Make fresh cranberry sauce using a little sugar and avoid canned jellied sauce
- Instead of vegetable casseroles with cream sauces, steam corn, green beans, and peas.
- Make low-fat stuffing by baking it, instead of stuffing the bird, using less butter and broth.
- Have a wine spritzer instead of a full glass of wine
- Bring a dessert or have a small piece of pie; chose pumpkin over pecan and add low fat whipped cream
- A last suggestion: sip ginger and turmeric tea throughout the day. You can buy the teabag or make it fresh. It keeps you feeling full and satiated, aids in digestion, is anti-inflammatory, and will warm you up.
Remember always to be kind to yourself; treat yourself well emotionally and physically everyday. Drink your water, make good choices, and maintain an exercise routine you like to do. Soon the holidays won’t be a time for stress and questions, but a time for peace and the self-satisfaction that you are doing the best you can.
(Below are some healthy substitutes for the Thanksgiving table.)
4 1/2 cup servings, 36 calories
- 10-ounce frozen cauliflower
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 wedges Laughing Cow Light Swiss
Prepare cauliflower according to package. Add cooked cauliflower, garlic and cheese to food processor. Blend to consistency of mashed potatoes.
Flour laden gravy is another no-no.
Bone Broth Gravy
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of gelatin powder
- 2 cups of beef bone broth
In a saucepan, add broth and gelatin, simmer 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat; let rest for 2 minutes, quickly stirring in egg yolks. Return to low heat, add butter, and stir well.
Jellied cranberry sauce swap for no sugar version:
- 1 medium orange
- 1 teaspoon of ginger juice
- add ground cloves to taste
- add Stevia powder to taste
- 12 ounce bag of fresh washed cranberries
Chop orange with peel into small pieces; add to food processor with prewashed cranberries. Add ginger juice and start with 1 teaspoon of Stevia and a dash of cloves. Pulse until desired consistency, taste and add additional Stevia and/or cloves as needed. Should taste sweet and tart. Can be made up to two days in advance with a 5–7 day maximum in the refrigerator. Any leftovers can be used in muffins, loaf or cake batters as well as a cheesecake topping.