Enjoy responsibly: How to eat holiday foods without guilt

November 12, 2014

The holidays are full of generosity.  We spend generously, give generously and eat generously.  While the first of those might be painful on our bank accounts, eating more than usual is not as bad as you might think.

Turkey and other Thanksgiving foods on a table.

Enjoy your favorite holiday dishes, just do so in moderation to avoid that extra pound the average American gains over the holidays.

David Leal, nutritionist and health educator with the Texas A&M Health Science Center says eating more fats and carbohydrates one or two days out of the year is not enough to completely derail a healthy lifestyle.

“Is it all those Thanksgivings, Christmases or Hanukkahs that are damaging our health?” Leal asked. “No, it’s what we do every other day of the year that has the biggest impact.”

He assures that as long as we continue making healthy choices throughout the year, there is no need to deprive ourselves of our favorite holiday indulgences. Nonetheless, many of us worry about the one to two extra pounds the average person gains over the course of a holiday season, and Leal has some advice to help stave it off.

1. Don’t save up by not eating

In anticipation of a large meal, it might seem appropriate to deprive ourselves the rest of the day.  But Leal says going more than three hours between meals can wreak havoc on a person’s metabolism and blood sugar levels.

Instead of holding out for the big meal, Leal recommends eating a balanced breakfast.  In addition, eat snacks between meals that contain protein and complex carbohydrates, such as string cheese, peanut butter and small amounts of fruit.

2. No such thing as bad and good food

Categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can lead to overeating.  Even those foods that experts say are good for us – like fruit or brown rice – still need to be consumed in appropriate portion sizes because they contain calories and carbohydrates that can add up.

“The same goes for the food we say is bad,” Leal said. “If we say pie is ‘bad’ and we can’t have any, it makes us want it more so we eat double or triple the appropriate amount of it.”

So go ahead and have that pumpkin pie, just eat an appropriate serving size.

3. Go outside

You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to keep holiday pounds at bay. Even a small amount of physical activity can raise your heart rate and burn extra calories.

Leal recommends going outside between turkey bastings to play with the kids, shoot some hoops, play with the dogs or take part in the annual family flag football game. Many cities even have holiday runs.

“You don’t have to be a runner,” Leal said. “There’s mile and two mile walks and even kid walks. Just taking that 15- or 20-minute walk is so beneficial.”

4. Paint your plate

Add colorful foods to your brown plate of turkey, potatoes and rolls. Leal suggests incorporating non-starchy vegetables such as steamed green beans, carrots without a glaze, sautéed spinach, squash, broccoli or cold spinach salad.

“Vegetables provide nutrients and calorie balance to the plate,” Leal explained.  “And the fiber in vegetables really helps satiate your appetite so you’re less likely to overload on foods higher in carbohydrates and fat.

5. Harbor no guilt

The holidays are about joy. Instead of feeling guilty about splurging, Leal says we should enjoy our holiday meals and treats.

“The holidays should be an enjoyment,” he said. “We shouldn’t have feelings of guilt or shame attached to having those special foods. Just go back to your normal healthy habits the next day.  After all, healthy habits are hard to break, too.”

— Lindsey Hendrix

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