The holidays are upon us! Where has the year gone? As a dietitian, this is the time of year I start to really preach moderation. I do believe that we should all enjoy this season and the bounty of festivities, friends, family and food that it brings ñ but in moderation ñ after all, how much family can one take (just kidding!)?
In all seriousness, this is the time of year where we all get into trouble with our waistline. The main culprit here is distraction. There is so much to do, so many folks to see and so much yummy food to taste that our senses are overwhelmed and the next thing we know an extra 300 calories have been consumed without a second thought. It’s no wonder that the average holiday season weight gain is 5lbs. That’s a lot of weight in a short period of time which in turn stresses the organs.
There has got to be a better way and luckily, there is: moderation and balance. ìOh, pleaseî, you say. ìI can’t pull that offî, you whine. Not true. We can all do this and I will tell you how. The first step is to be aware of what you are doing and what you intend to do with your holiday food intake. Once you know what you are doing (I’m going to let loose at this party, I think I’ll take it easy tonight, I think I’ll take a break from alcohol tonight, etc), you need to strike a balance between the rich holiday food and some light, restorative foods.
During the holidays most feasting takes place in the evening. This is especially rough on the liver because it is most active from 1-3am, so if we are still digesting at that hour, then the liver has less energy to do its long list of chores. The liver is in charge of everything that comes into the body and everything that leaves the body and makes many important things in the body (like hormones and proteins). So as far as losing or maintaining weight, the liver is your greatest ally. The more energy the liver has to do its job, the easier it will be for you to maintain your weight.
So if you are going out on most nights during the holiday season it is important to:
Be aware of what you are eating and
Do not over-eat.
Pay attention to how you feel before you sit down to dinner. Did you have too many appetizers? If so, try to have more vegetables on your dinner plate and a smaller portion of meat and starch.
Do not go for seconds!
Try to keep dinner light so that you will sleep comfortably and the liver will have the energy to process what’s at hand easily and efficiently.
The next morning be sure to have a small but complete breakfast. This is necessary to restore nutrients used up in the processing of last night’s holiday dinner. I know it sounds strange, but it takes nutrients to process nutrients, therefore a certain amount of the nutrients you ate at dinner are used in the digestive process and another bunch are brought in from our body’s storage to further aid in digestion. What’s left over is then broken down and the liver determines where it will be used.
Digestion takes the most energy and uses the most nutritional resources!
Some breakfast ideas are:
low-fat yogurt (not fat-free) with 1 TB flax meal and Ω cup berries
an egg or two with cooked veggies (leftovers are great for this)
a sprouted grain tortilla with egg, sprouts and greens
Ω cup cooked quinoa, º avocado, 1 tsp flax oil
These are simple, nutrient rich, whole-food choices made of a protein, a carbohydrate and a fat that the body can easily digest and use.
If you require a mid-morning snack, by all means have one but keep it in the whole-foods category. Some examples would be:
1 TB peanut butter (or other nut butter) and an apple, pear or celery
º cup hummus and carrots, celery or other veggies
4 almonds and a fresh piece of fruit
1 container low-fat yogurt (a brand without high fructose corn syrup)
1 cheese stick and some veggies or a piece of fruit
Lunch will be the great equalizer. Normally my advice is to make lunch your most important meal of the day. The reasoning is that this meal will be totally digested by the time the liver needs to kick into high gear (1-3 am) and it will carry you into the dinner hour. However, if you know that you will be eating a big dinner, make your lunch light by eating lots of green veggies. Let’s say you have some chicken with vegetables and a small amount of rice. Be sure to add a substantial side salad. All of these vegetables bring nutrients to the body and help balance our pH levels which are often thrown out of whack by overeating. The variety of holiday foods and the richness of these foods require lots of extra nutrients to process them, the blast of vegetables in the middle of the day will help the body deal with any overload that might happen at night.
Should you need a snack to tide you over until the dinner party, follow the same advice as for the mid-morning snack.
If there is an evening during the holidays where you will be at home and taking a break from the festivities, give your digestive system a break as well. I highly recommend a nutritious yet light dinner of a simple broth based soup with vegetables and a large fresh salad. A ginger and mint tea after dinner will help set the stage for smooth digestion and a calming of the body in preparation for sleep.
By tuning into how we feel and being aware of how we make our holiday food choices we can create a simple system to balance the indulgences with restorative pauses. It is possible to enjoy the holidays and still maintain our weight and our sanity by exercising conscious moderation.
Happy Holidays to All!