Holiday parties stressing you out? We have all heard the same old recommendations on how to navigate your way through family gatherings, work parties, and other festive events that seemingly always revolve around high calorie foods.
“Just eat before you arrive and don’t touch anything at the party”, “ Don’t drink a drop of alcohol”, and worst case scenario, “Thankfully winter attire is forgiving because the jungle of rum-spiked eggnog and cream-cheese frosted snowman cookies will not do anything favorable to your waistline.”
Success throughout the holiday season does not have to mean accepting your fate of gaining the average of 7 to 10 pounds, but it also does not mean having to miss out on nostalgic and meaningful foods. Let’s get beyond the boring, redundant holiday “game plans” you will read in magazines and incorporate a more realistic strategy to truly help you avoid holiday weight gain while also enjoying the spirit of the season.
One study (1) reported that half of annual weight gain occurred during the holiday period. Why? Because the foods we indulge in are typically high in sugar and calorically dense. That’s a no brainer. Additionally, we rarely indulge exclusively on the actual day of celebration. Rather, the entire duration of the time between Halloween and New Year’s, which starts off with a binge on your kids’ candy, is glittered with work gatherings, classroom parties, friendly food offerings from associates and neighbors, and a plethora of other occasions in which indulgent fare is not only available, but encouraged.
So, if we know what causes the weight gain, why it is so hard to prevent it? Recognizing obstacles is the first step in helping you to better navigate the holiday season.
Let’s explore some real life strategies you can do starting now to get the most of this joyous time without missing out.
I never eat marshmallows. Seriously. And I certainly never eat them on sweet potatoes. But, Mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole is heaven on a plate, and no gathering would be complete without it. Therefore, when it is present, I feel an instinctual urge to have it– and have a lot of it. While it may not be the epitome of health, foods that have emotional and deeper meanings are spiritually fulfilling and truly one of the reasons of the seasons. Choose wisely and opt to have one indulgence that you just cannot go without. This will allow you to feel a part of the festivities while you are otherwise choosing healthier options. Perhaps this means filling up on baked turkey and green beans while skipping the pumpkin pie to have a little more sweet potatoes. Or, maybe it means having a small sampling of everything. Find the context in which you are comfortable and work with it. Remember, deprivation during the holidays is a binge waiting to happen.
They say ignorance is bliss, but I say that not knowing what is in your food is a recipe for holiday weight gain. That delicious spinach artichoke dip may sound healthy because it has two vegetables in the name, but there is a big possibility that it is loaded with non-organic, hormone filled cream cheese and soybean oil laden mayonnaise. Opt for single ingredient items or at least items with identifiable ingredients such as vegetable sticks, kebobs, cheese cubes, fresh fruit, or charcuterie plates. Better yet, bring a dish to offer to the party such as homemade deviled eggs or avocado cream sauce to dip vegetables (see recipe below).
The holidays are stressful enough dealing with family and finances. Stress causes the body to produce cortisol, a stress hormone, which prompts the liver to dump sugar into the bloodstream for quick energy. The action of cortisol is a necessity when a quick boost is needed to allow you to run away from a tiger or dodge a threat. This influx of sugar in the bloodstream is usually cleared once the danger is at bay, but in terms of holiday madness, we have three months of constant crazy. Stress induced cortisol secretion causes a continuous flow of blood sugar into the system. Elevated blood sugar leads to elevated insulin which leads to fat storage. Couple naturally elevated blood sugar with eating high sugar foods, and it is no wonder holiday gains are nearly unavoidable.
Ways to remedy this natural elevation is to ensure that you are consuming adequate fat through the diet. Fat feeds the adrenal glands, which are responsible for regulating cortisol, and can help to balance hormones and blunt the effects of high carbohydrate foods. The best sources of fat to go for include: avocado, olives, nuts, coconut, grass-fed animal products. Therefore, at parties, opt to have a satiating, healthy fat dish to start to help fill you up and battle those carbohydrate cravings.
This season can test the willpower of even the strongest person. Therefore, practice self forgiveness and acceptance of the natural urges to indulge, owning the realities of your food decisions. Pick your battles, eat the best that you can, and try not to sweat the small stuff. After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year!
2 large avocados
1/3 cup packed basil
2-3 garlic cloves
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Reference: 1. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
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