Christmas and Hanukkah are just around the corner and we know that means many healthy eating habits are sabotaged by the “urge splurge”. There are many reasons for splurging, but this particular urge splurge is related to all-or-nothing thinking in that there is a sense of entitlement. You think that the holidays only come once a year so why not eat as many cookies and chex mix, potato latkes and sufganiot as you want.
The average American gains one to two pounds over the holidays. That does not include the weight gained from Halloween treating and the days of leftovers from Thanksgiving. At the same time, weather in the north half of the country is getting colder and many people stop walking. The problem is not just the isolated pounds that creep on during the end of the year, but the accumulation of it over many years. Furthermore, the weight gain is happening at the same time that our body’s muscle mass is shrinking. The typical inactive person over 30 loses 3-5% of their muscle mass every decade. And muscle mass is what determines metabolism. So while our appetites and waists are expanding from too many urge splurges, our metabolism is slowing down. There is a middle ground – enjoy your traditions, but thoughtfully.
The Man Plan
Think ahead over the season and develop a strategy so that you can still enjoy your goodies but not to the abandonment of your health. Be a man (or woman) with a plan and try some of these suggestions to devise your own strategy to avoid the urge splurge.
- Delay cooking your own treats until as late as possible and make fewer of them. Hold off on those sugar cookies until a day before the company comes. The fewer the days of exposure, the less you will be tempted.
- Do not go shopping or to a party hungry. This is like having that itch in the middle of your back you can not reach – it’s all you can think about. Of course your will power is going to disappear when your stomach is growling and your eyes and nose are teased with all kinds of yummy, buttery, crunchie, colorful, goodies. Plan to eat a meal or at least a snack with some protein and fiber to take the edge off your hunger. A piece of fruit and a few nuts, a half cup of low-fat, plain Greek yogurt with some fruit or even a low-fat string cheese with a few whole grain crackers would all be good choices.
- Look ahead each week and plan for the really busy days by preparing extra food on a less busy day. When I make soups I make two gallons of it and freeze half of it. I still have some for days later in the week when I don’t have time to cook and even more for a month down the road. This makes me less likely to want to bring home pizza or some other quick, high-calorie food.
- Do not stand or sit near the food at a party. Go to the opposite side of the room to avoid temptation and hold a drink in your hand so you are less likely to hold a plate of food, only the amount your fingers can grasp.
- Scout out all the food choices when you are at a party. Your eyes might latch on to that cheese ball before you even saw the delicious fresh strawberry display. One ounce of cheese has 100 calories and that can disappear in one bite.
- Know where your calories are loaded. Foods high in fat are going to have the most calories. This includes cheese, bacon, buttery cookies, dips made with mayonnaise or sour cream, and fried foods. Load up on raw veggies, fruit, sauces made with tomato or salsa, steamed or baked seafood and meats. You can still enjoy some of these other things but if you start with the lower calorie things first you will eat fewer or the higher calorie ones.
- Bring something healthy to the celebration. Bring a colorful veggie platter with flowered red radishes, carrots, peppers, scallions, broccoli, cauliflower and olives and make a dip with half low-fat plain Greek yogurt mixed with low-fat sour cream and half a packet of Italians seasoning or a store bought humus. You could even make it Christmasy by using only green and red veggies!
- Make your treats be healthy. Instead of an chocolate cake, make an apple or berry crisp. This recipe is for a blueberry-rhubarb crisp but you could substitute any other fruit like apple-cranberry, or raspberry-pear for this holiday season. Instead of a high-fat crust this crisp is full of whole grain oatmeal, flax seed and a little bit of butter. I add very little sugar to my fruit because fruit is naturally sweet. Besides the sweetness of the crisp topping is a nice contrast with the tartness of the fruit.
- Keep your treat to one meal. Instead of finishing off lunch with a couple of cookies or snacking on that chex mix, wait until dinner and have the cookies after you finish your dinner. You get the benefit of the protein and fiber from your meal to slow down digestion and avoid the sugar spike. Eating cookies or some sweet in the evening only spikes the blood sugar, makes people want to eat more and is the quickest way to gain those extra pounds. Sip on a nice herbal tea instead.
- Do something fun instead of eating. Turn off the TV with all its food advertisements and play a game or read! My husband and I just starting playing Backgammon again while we sit out in the living room by the tree. I get to enjoy his company, not be bombarded by tempting food commercials and get the visual pleasure of my tree.
Make It a Planned Splurge
The holidays can still be fun even as you exercise some restraint. It’s not about feeling deprived but is about having a plan. Think how little time it takes to eat a cookie and how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn it off – about 1 mile at a pretty fast clip. If you want to splurge, make it a planned splurge, done thoughtfully and after implementing some of the suggestions above. You can enjoy the holidays without guilt while still holding the reins of your health as you start the new year.