6 Tips for a Naughty or Nice Holiday Season

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Lisa M. Davis, PhD, PA-C, CNS, LDN, Chief Nutrition Officer of Terra’s Kitchen, on six ways you have have a good-for-you holiday season.

It may be that we are pre-wired for a little holiday indulgence. After all, the pleasure receptors that control our desire for food and our liking of tasty treats can’t help but to be extra-stimulated during the holiday season. The resulting overindulgence, however, can carry quite a toll. The average holiday dinner alone can reach as high as 3,000 calories according to the Calorie Control Council. And many nibble through another 1,500 calories in drinks and appetizers before and after the big meal. Combined, that’s the equivalent of more than 2 1/4 times the average daily calorie intake.

Outwitting our own brain circuitry may be the key to staying healthy and fit all season through. So, follow the Girl Scout motto this holiday season and “Be Prepared.” The following six principles will help you make good choices so you can “ho, ho, ho” all the way into the New Year.

  1. Plan Your Strategy Ahead of Time. Decide whether you are going to control your caloric intake on the front end of the holiday meal by making informed choices, or whether you plan to work them off at the back end through rigorous exercise (or perhaps some combination of the two)?  Either way you will want to plan your strategy ahead of time, and not be a victim of the sights and smells of the holiday treats or enabling family members and friends.
  1. Identify which foods are Naughty or Nice.  If your plan is to watch what you eat and avoid the temptation to overindulge at the holiday meal, you will want to know what foods can be Naughty and Nice when it comes to evaluating calories. Let’s begin with Naughty: 4 ounces of pot roast (345 kcal), 1 cup of bread stuffing (355 kcal) and 1 cup of glazed carrots (217 kcal) totals 959 calories, which is about 300 calories more than the typical dinner meal. For individuals following a 1,500-2,200 calorie diet, a typical dinner meal averages between 500 and 650 calories. A Nice meal still looks hearty but consists of better choices: 4 ounces of skinless roasted turkey breast (190 kcal), one cup of green bean casserole (143 kcal), and one cup of mashed potatoes (238 kcal) which adds up to be a total of 571 calories.
  1. Implement Your Damage Control Plan.If you have waited all year to do a little indulging at the holiday meal, or you planned not to overindulge, but then blew it, do not fret. Plan to re-establish your caloric equilibrium through exercise. This can be done before your big holiday meal (with effective planning) or after. While staying active is always key for countering the extra calories we pick up during the holiday season (as well as for managing its accompanying stress), plan to burn off at least 500 calories before or after a big feast so the numbers on the scale don’t get too out-of-control. Ways to expend 500 calories include an hour of running, swimming or Zumba, one and a half hours of moderately brisk walking or water aerobics, two hours of Pilates or yoga, or 6 hours of kissing!
  1. Substitute this for That…Forgo the Alcohol to Have the Dessert?If the idea of not having Aunt Susan’s homemade apple pie might be too much to bare, consider swapping out the alcoholic drinks in order to have your pie and eat it too. A small slice of pumpkin or apple pie contains 350 calories, and pecan pie, 450, and you get the satisfying aspect of chewing. Research has shown the sensation of fullness is less when you drink your calories instead of chew them. Two glasses of wine or beer contains, on average, 300 calories, and one cup of eggnog a whopping 450 calories.
  1. Do Not Go Hungry.If you arrive at the party starved, fireworks will go off in your brain at the sight and smell of the holiday fixings that will lead to overeating and drinking. Not to mention that drinking on an empty stomach can give you a quicker buzz and result in more mindless eating. On the day of your holiday gathering, don’t skip meals and be sure to fill up on snacks that are filling because they contain protein and/or fiber. Before you head to the party, have a hard-boiled egg (6 g protein), 23 nuts (6 g protein, 3.5 g fiber), 6 oz. of Greek yogurt (15-20 g protein), or celery and 2 TBSP nut butter  (peanut, almond and sunflower contain 7 g of protein).
  2. Consider the Law of Diminishing Returns when it comes to the pleasure we obtain from foods. Ordinarily speaking, at some point more is not necessarily better, it is just more. You know when you take a bite and it’s incredibly enjoyable and you are truly savoring it, and then the next bite just doesn’t have quite as much of a delectable impact? That is the point of diminishing return – every subsequent bite you take after that first one that just isn’t quite as pleasurable as the last. So focus on the first three bites of food and really savor them by chewing them mindfully, having at least 15 chews per bite before swallowing.

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