Let’s face it. Every year we spend most of the winter grazing over holiday goodies at the kitchen counter or fixed like a barnacle to the couch in front of the television. The more we sleep, the more we blame the turkey’s tryptophan.
Since starvation seems the only way to avoid holiday weight gain, we turn fatalist, resigning ourselves to compulsive indulgence in Aunt Bev’s pecan pie squares. But after talking to June Bindas, exercise physiologist and nutritionist at Case Western Reserve University’s One to One Fitness Center, we learned that healthy holiday living sometimes just means picking up a snow shovel or saying no when asked, “Do you want whipped cream on that gingerbread latte?”
Don’t diet: This is the season of celebration, so be realistic. Holiday eating is about finding freedom within restrictions, not starving or eating only red meat. “Food is not the enemy,” Bindas says. “You are your own enemy.” Avoid haphazard eating. If you starve yourself at work, your body will slow down and you will end up bingeing at the next meal. Instead of falling into extremes and temporary fixes, remember the words of your mother: “All things in moderation.”
Fuel yourself: If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Eat breakfast! Drink water! Eat protein! A small breakfast, even just a glass of orange juice, starts your metabolism each day. Sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger, and drinking water will keep your metabolism running efficiently. Because protein takes longer to metabolize than carbohydrates, it keeps you feeling full. An apple or a bag of carrots will give you constant energy and even help quiet cravings. “The key to not indulging is not becoming ravenously hungry,” Bindas says. “Apple has water so it will give you a little sense of fullness.”
Stop at one: As impossible as it may seem, brownies can actually be savored in single servings. If you’re eating out, don’t finish everything that’s in front of you. Ask for a doggie bag. “People know how much they normally eat,” Bindas says. “Don’t be afraid to take something home.” At parties, allow yourself one glass of wine and one dessert. Be prepared and be aware that portion sizes and numbers add up. You don’t have to say “no,” you just have to say “no more.”
Recognize calorie disguises: Bread at restaurants, trays of hors d’oeuvres at parties, free pastries at work and peanut brittle from your neighbor are just a few deceptively innocent, but calorie-dense, packages. Specialty coffee drinks and oversized bagels can be as high in calories as milk shakes or doughnuts. Remember, there is always a lighter alternative. Order a salad before dinner, munch on vegetables at parties and give away some of your neighbor’s treats. Opt for a non-fat latte with no added sugar and stick with a piece of toast, not a bagel.
Toughen up mentally: The biggest part of this battle is mental. Once we’ve overindulged, we tend to say, “Tomorrow I’ll start over.” Instead, tell yourself you’ll make up for it later. Don’t wallow in guilt; this just adds to your holiday stress. Approach food with consistency, not obsession. If you allow it to become the enemy, you’ll prevent yourself from ever really enjoying it. “It’s unrealistic to say no to all things,” Bindas advises. “You can’t deprive yourself completely.”
Just keep moving: Seize every opportunity to walk a little farther. Take the steps, not the elevator. When holiday shopping, do some unnecessary window-shopping around the mall. Join a gym, ice skate with your kids and use the treadmill when watching TV. Burn calories and spread the spirit of giving by shoveling your neighbor’s driveway.