Healthier Ways to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

There’s an easy resolution for each of us to adopt this December. This year, let’s change the expression, “eat, drink and be merry” to “eat healthfully, drink moderately and be happier!” Adopting an effective strategy for controlling excess, and setting reasonable expectations for ourselves are the smartest options for ensuring a happy and healthy holiday season.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. It isn’t just overeating, though, that challenges us. Often, exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (at least 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

The trick is to focus on short-term goals, such as walking or exercising a few times a week. And when it comes to food, eating vegetables and fruit at parties and avoid taking second helpings. Have one cookie and stop. If you imbibe, realize that alcohol and holiday beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories; alcohol also interferes with your sleep and judgment, and may leave you with an additional price to pay the next day.

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

The first critical step is to practice awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each choice, instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Avoid Short-term Fixes

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have created great treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Lack of advance planning. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering; hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, it’s an expensive time of year, and the extra tasks add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips. The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

The best advice is to go easy on yourself:  drink, eat and celebrate in moderation, allow yourself some excess as expected, but say “no” when you can, keep away from the foods that hurt you the most, and don’t neglect regular exercise or routines that help you keep stress at bay.

Remember, the goal is long-term change and healthy behaviors, not short-term fixes. Surviving the holidays is like plodding through a snowstorm that lasts a full month. You put your head down, walk into the wind, and keep moving forward toward your goals, a step (or bite) at a time.

 


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!