The holiday season can include constant temptation — from overloaded buffet tables and traditional family dishes to a daily parade of cookies, pies and cakes. By the time 2017 arrives, you could find yourself once again listing “lose weight” at the top of your New Year’s resolutions.
Instead, make 2016 your year of healthy holidays. Follow these simple guidelines to avoid adding the “festive five” pounds, while still enjoying your favorite seasonal treats and spending time with family and friends.
Try to meet your regular activity goal, whether it is 10,000 steps per day or 150 active minutes a week. Take advantage of time off from work to establish new active family traditions: go out to the backyard for a flag football game on Thanksgiving; join your relatives on a brisk walk; venture onto a nearby path and take a hike. If you don’t already own one, consider a wearable fitness tracker. Regular progress updates can make it more fun to set — and meet — daily goals for healthy activity.
Set your limits in advance
Before you attend a holiday gathering, decide on a few strategies for what and how you’ll eat, and then stick to them. Some examples to help keep you on track: do not go for second helpings of any meal items; limit yourself to one dessert; and skip the extra butter. It’s much easier to make healthy choices at a buffet when you already know what you want and don’t want to put on your plate. Another helpful hint to manage your hunger as you are faced with such temptation at this challenging time of year? Eat a nutritious snack or even a small meal before going to an event, so you aren’t ravenous when you arrive.
How hungry are you, really? Pay attention to your hunger and what you’re eating. It’s easy to mindlessly consume calories when you’re surrounded by holiday treats and the hosts are encouraging you to take a second helping. Consider all the foods being served before deciding which ones you most want to enjoy. Sit down to savor your selections, instead of grazing continuously. And remember, you don’t need to fill, or clean, your plate. Practice saying, “Everything was so delicious that I couldn’t eat another bite.”
Build an ideal plate
Aim to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains and the other quarter with meat, poultry or fish. Go easy on the butter, heavy sauces and creamy dips. At the end of the meal, your stomach will be full, your body will be fueled and you’ll have plenty of energy to enjoy the rest of the evening. Consider offering to bring a delicious healthy fruit or vegetable dish to gatherings so you can be sure you’ll have something to spoon onto that half of your plate.
Focus on ‘clean’ foods
Also called “living foods,” these include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats — the foods that nature provides. Build a rainbow on your plate with red tomatoes, orange squash and green broccoli. Limit processed foods, such as chips and packaged cookies, to the occasional snack.
Watch your liquid calories
It’s easy to consume hundreds of empty calories in just one or two alcoholic or sugar-sweetened beverages that offer no nutritional value. Additionally, alcohol lowers your resolve, making it more likely that you’ll also eat more high-calorie treats. If eggnog is an annual treat you cannot pass on, then drink just one. Consider alternating alcoholic beverages with sparkling water during a lengthy event.
During the holidays and every day, aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, a maximum two hours of TV time, at least one hour of physical activity and zero sugar-sweetened beverages. These numeric goals support each other. By eating more fruits and vegetables, you have less room for sugary beverages. Spend an hour walking or biking and you have less time for sitting in front of the TV.
Implementing these strategies will result in a healthier number on the scale throughout the holiday season and well into 2017. Better health is truly the best gift to give yourself this year and every year ahead.
Mark Stephens, is a family medicine physician at Penn State Medical Group in State College.