As a nation that's measurably getting larger person by person, it's fairly clear that there's some serious eating going on around here. When it comes to the holidays, the overconsumption of food is a looming potential for most of us, given all that turkey, ham, buttery rolls, pumpkin pie and choice of Christmas cookies. No one can deny that eating is a memorable tradition for many people, particularly the family style dinners associated with holiday gatherings. And the sight of Uncle Jim dozing on the couch after a carbohydrate-rich repast, not to mention our own feelings of gastrointestinal discomfort, are right up there with Pilgrims, elves, sleighs, shocks of wheat and mall shopping as an enduring image of the holiday season. But it doesn't have to be that way. The fact is, you can get through, and more importantly, enjoy this very special time without guilt, lethargy, added pounds … or a feeling of deprivation. And here's how:
1. Fill your plate with the right food
When it comes to what you put on your plate, the healthiest recommendation is to make sure that half of it is covered with fruit and veggies. Sticking with the fractions, a quarter should then be devoted to low-fat protein like skinless turkey or chicken, fish or lean beef with the remaining 25% left for some combination of whole grains, legumes or starch – potatoes, rice, and bread. Of course if you don't eat meat and there's no substitute like soy products, textured vegetable protein, or egg dishes, eat more fruits and vegetables and go a little heavier on the beans and peas.
2. Portion control is the key
The holidays are a time when people often whip up some signature dish that they want to share. You don't have to offend someone by refusing it entirely but avoid the giant ladle full of whatever was lovingly prepared by serving yourself as you say how delicious it looks. And that's really what portion control is about. It's not that you're reducing the things you eat in terms of variety, but rather with regard to quantity.
One good trick is to use familiar items to measure your portion size. For example a good serving of meat – about 3 or 4 ounces – is about the size of a deck of cards. Sensible serving of mashed potatoes should be comparable to a tennis ball. As you work your way through portion control, enjoying the foods you like but in smaller amounts, keep in mind that all those gravies, sauces and dips don't come free so dispense them in particularly small amounts. That means accenting the potatoes with a splash of gravy rather than a bath.
3. Avoid skipping meals in exchange for the big blowout
The inconvenient truth is you can't really bank calories. The combination of hunger and sense of entitlement you get when you skip meals will almost always result in taking on more calories than you save. Instead of trying to save up for the feast, try small meals or small healthy snacks throughout the day. Low calorie, small-quantity snacks will help you avoid hunger pangs (and the overeating that generally accompanies them) while also helping to stabilize blood sugar levels and potentially increase your metabolism.
4. Don't feel like a martyr
Denying yourself some of the delicious homemade goodies that are part of most people's holidays can create guilt (when you finally succumb and cut yourself too large a piece of pie) or stress at a time that should be filled with relaxation and a chance to get away from everyday concerns. Instead, allow yourself a small number of treats, but be more selective than usual. And keep in mind the principle of portion control may be even more important when it comes to the desserts.When you take smaller amounts and reduce the number of bites …you may find out that you savour those bites even more.
5. Develop a plan and stick to it
It's not always possible because the unexpected can come up, especially around the holidays, but try to keep track of the food, drink and physical activity that are going to be part of your day. Set a goal, write it down, and work hard to meet it. You'll still get the enjoyment of some of those wonderful holiday foods and possibly gain some additional personal satisfaction in the process.
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