It’s that time of year again – that’s right, I’m talking about the time of year when the average American packs on the pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Inevitably, around this time I get requests for “healthy holiday recipes” or to present a “healthy holiday” cooking class or workshop. My answer to these requests is always the same: NO!
But why on earth would a Registered Dietitian, someone whose livelihood is helping families eat healthier and individuals lose weight, not want to help people eat healthier on the holidays? Well, there’s lots of good reasons.
Honestly, when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, do you really want to eat fat-free mashed potatoes or do you crave those decadent mashed potatoes with all the butter and cream in them that you only eat once a year? Do you truly prefer low-fat pie made with artificial sweetner? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Food is a great pleasure in life. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are 3 days out of the 365 in a year. That’s 0.8%, less than 1% of the year. What you eat less than 1% of the time will not make you fat. It just won’t. However, constantly denying and restricting yourself is unsustainable over the long term and will always lead to a cycle of weight loss followed by the inevitable gain. Sound familiar?
The holiday meals are a time to spend with family, give thanks and celebrate. Would you want to sit down to dinner with someone who spends the meal keeping a nutritional tally of the calories, fat and carb grams of everything on the table? That is not fun. And if you are the person keeping tally, it is hard to have meaningful interactions with other people if you are distracted by and worried about every bite you are eating.
What is important is how you eat the other 99% of the days in the year. Splurging on the holidays is one thing, but splurging for the entire months of November and December is another. 2 months out of 12 is about 17% of the time, and what you eat 17% of the time could very well contribute to packing on the pounds. It is okay to splurge once in a while, but be careful not to veer down the slippery slope of using the entire holiday season as an excuse to eat mindlessly.
If you are eating sensibly and mindfully for the majority of the holiday season there is no reason you should not be able to splurge on the holidays and a few holiday parties in between. The trick is to eat mindfully. Listen to your body. Eat the things that make you feel good and pay attention to your body’s internal signals of when to stop. Don’t eat food just because it is there. Are you really hungry?
Keep exercising! Think of exercise as a gift to yourself. Yes, I know it can be painful and hard to make time in your schedule. But the stress-relieving properties of exercise are so worth it, especially during a time that can be stressful even for the merriest of us. And burning extra calories at the gym or wherever you like to exercise, helps negate the effects of those overindulgences. Winter can also be a great time to try new activities – think skiing, ice skating, snow shoveling (really, it is a great workout!).
With a little planning and attention to your day-to-day eating, there is no reason to cut back on the holidays. If you feel like you need extra help to guide you through what can be treacherous times for even the most strong-willed, don’t wait until New Year’s to begin those nutrition and fitness resolutions!
Enlist the assistance of a Nourish Dietitian Nutritionist to help get you through this season and get a jump start with your commitment to a healthy lifestyle. No matter how you get through the season, though, it is important to realize that good nutrition and good health should not involve feeling deprived. As in all aspects of life, it is all about balance. If you eat healthfully around the holidays, you can enjoy yourself on the holidays.