“Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.” – Julia Child
The holiday season is upon us.
It’s that time of year when we gather together to enjoy family and friends, merriment and laughter, and of course, good food. But with such an abundance of delicious dishes and tasty temptations, we may find our waistlines challenged.
And with the stress of this unusual year, we may be more tempted than ever to overindulge. In fact, surveys show that many of us are already coming into the holiday season with a weight surplus.
But take heart. There are some simple things you can do to prevent the holidays from being a choice between enjoying yourself a little, and fitting into your clothes.
Use a Smaller Plate
One easy trick to help prevent weight gain is the act of using a smaller plate.
While it may sound simple, studies show that even a small decrease in plate size can lead to consuming substantially fewer calories, thereby helping you maintain, or even lose, weight. And the same principle even applies to using a smaller spoon.
So instead of grabbing that large plate for your main course, try reaching for the smaller dessert plate for your next meal.
Don’t Skip Meals and Savor Every Bite
Ok, so this is technically two tips, but they’re both important.
First, be sure not to skip breakfast or lunch in anticipation of stuffing yourself later in the day. While waiting for the good stuff may seem like a great idea, it will not only hurt your blood sugar and hunger levels, but it will also set you up for failure when you do eat. By having the expectation of eating a large meal later, you’re bound to create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby you’re likely to overeat.
You should also remember that, when the time to eat does arrive, it’s important to eat slowly. By savoring each and every bite, you’ll not only enjoy your food more, but your brain will have the 20 minutes or so it needs to send the signal that you’re full. Otherwise, you’re likely to find that you’ve overstuffed yourself and consumed more calories than needed.
Make Wise Food Choices
It comes as no surprise that paying close attention to what foods you’re eating is important.
Consuming more complex carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, as well as more protein, like turkey or ham, while going light on the simple carbs, such as white potatoes, bread, and desserts, is a good rule of thumb.
And remember, there are some great options to substitute in place of higher calorie or higher glycemic index foods. For example, try mashed cauliflower in place of white potatoes, or you can even try sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes—that is, as long as they’re not loaded with marshmallows or maple syrup.
With that said, it’s the holidays after all, so you have reason to partake of the things you may only get to enjoy once a year, like your grandma’s pecan pie, or your aunt’s famous macaroni and cheese. Otherwise, you may be left feeling deprived and unsatisfied, which will ultimately backfire. What’s key is to follow Julia Child’s advice, and not partake to excess.
Liquids are an often-overlooked source of calories, so it’s important to watch sugary drinks, such as sodas and sugar-added juices. It’s also a good idea to limit or avoid alcohol due to the extra calories it brings. Instead, try some seltzer water infused with a bit of muddled fruit and fresh mint. This way, you’ll feel like you’re enjoying a special treat, without the added alcohol.
It’s also interesting to note that people regularly mistake hunger for thirst. So having a glass of water before a meal can help satisfy that need, while decreasing how much you eat.
Making physical activity a part of your holidays is a good decision, whether it’s going to the gym, using an exercise DVD or app, or taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
Not only does a little cardio help burn off some calories, but studies show that when you participate in physical activity, you’re also more motivated to make healthy food choices. In addition, the process of strengthening and toning your body builds up muscle mass and decreases fat, which in turn, acts to burn more calories.
Get Your Zzz’s
While often overlooked, sleep is crucial to a healthy weight.
Studies show that when you’re sleep-deprived, you tend to not only eat more, but also consume more high-fat, high-sugar foods.
This is because sleep deprivation impacts our hormone levels. Studies show that lack of sleep leads to higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which acts as an appetite stimulant, while decreasing the level of the hormone leptin, which acts as an appetite suppressant.
To guard against mindless, unhealthy eating, set a goal of 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Your body and mind will thank you.
Losing weight and maintaining weight requires a multifaceted approach, not just during the holidays, but every day of the year.
It’s not just about what foods you eat, or how much you eat. Psychological factors, such as visual cues and your expectations, also have a role to play. In addition, your level of physical activity, as well as how much sleep you get, also matter in your efforts toward a healthy weight.
By using some of these simple and easy approaches, you can set yourself up for success, and enjoy your holiday meals without worry or guilt.
Tatiana Denning, D.O. is a preventive family medicine physician and owner of Simpura Weight Loss and Wellness. She believes in empowering her patients with the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain and improve their own health through weight management, healthy habits, and disease prevention.