By Dr. Nick Harper, Clark Primary Care
The holidays are a joyous time for many people, but some of our customs tend to have a not-so-positive impact on our health. Holiday gatherings tend to involve meals as a focal point. There is nothing inherently wrong with this practice. Everybody has to eat, right? Food brings family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers together in amazing ways. That being said, I want to encourage you to maintain some thoughtfulness in regard to your health and, specifically, as you prepare your plates this holiday season. I have a few simple things to keep in mind that I hope will allow you to enjoy what you’re eating without taking extra pounds with you into the New Year.
The easiest place to start is portion size. If you take nothing else from this, see if you can cut portions across the board by ¼ to 1/3. That can be the difference between a plate with 1200 calories and a plate with 800 calories by simply cutting a portion of each item on your plate down to 2/3 of what you would usually make for yourself. Maybe it’s as simple as using a smaller plate and telling yourself that you must keep your portions small enough to all fit on the small plate.
Next, be sure that your plate is balanced in terms of the types of foods. The majority of your calories will come from carbohydrates and fats. Mashed potatoes and corn are starchy vegetables with lots of carbohydrates. Bread, stuffing, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, any sweets/desserts, and sugary drinks like sweet tea, soda or alcohol are going to be very high in calories because they are primarily carbohydrates. Red meats like beef, ham, sausage, and bacon are very fatty and will be higher calorie than baked or smoked turkey or chicken. Fruits are healthy in a variety of ways but are also are carbohydrates, so they pack a lot of calories as well. A good rule of thumb would be to focus on lean meat options like turkey (maybe hold off on the stuffing or gravy?) and green veggies like green beans, peas, and broccoli, which will be low in carbohydrates and fats.
Third, try to avoid the trap of continuing to eat for the pleasure of eating and because there is still food to be had. Sometimes our brain does not do a good job of reinforcing that we have had our fill. It is easy to continue eating well beyond when you feel full. Try to be conscientious of this and don’t be afraid to pack up the extra for leftovers throughout the next week.
I know these strategies are easier said than done, but a little bit of critical thinking about your meals will go a long way. One thing you could do to reduce the guilt and consequences of overindulging at the holidays is trying to be strict with your diet leading up to the holiday meal. That would mean making a conscientious effort to keep your calories low in the days leading up to holiday meal so as to keep your weekly average calorie intake roughly the same. Consider it a “cheat day,” but force yourself to be diligent about diet leading up to that day.
Also, depending on your level of dedication, I always recommend considering calorie tracking and monitoring. There are a variety of smartphone applications that make this easier than ever. By tracking all of your calories, you are aware and accountable for everything you eat and drink.
Exercise is always encouraged, but being a marathon runner on a terrible diet will not make you lose weight or be healthy. If you can get the others at the dinner table to buy in with you, it would be worth considering modifications to old recipes or new recipes for some of the staples that are lower calorie overall. It tends to be a lot easier to focus on healthy eating when you’re doing it with others and holding each other accountable.