‘Tis the Season for Weight Gain – And What (Not) to Do When Celebrating the Holidays

The holidays are a time for celebration, which means for many of us engaging in some form of overindulgence. With all the good cheer comes the almost inevitable straying from healthy eating habits (if you have them), or things go from bad to worse (if you don’t). The sweet treats that get passed around the office, the parties, the family events, the many traditions, they all contribute to the expansion of your waistline, which can be considerable by the time you get to make your New Year’s resolution.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but, as you may remember from last year, it probably will be. So how do you avoid falling into the same traps over and over again? Here are some suggestions. Based on experience, you probably have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen at the office party or dinner at Grandma’s. There will be lots of booze, tasty hors d’oeuvres, sumptuous buffets, irresistible desserts. You will be encouraged to dig in, have seconds, have thirds, enjoy everything and leave nothing untried. You don’t want to be a party pooper or hurt unnecessarily the host’s feelings (especially not granny’s).

Avoid the Pitfalls Without
Missing Out on the Fun

So what do you do? For starters, plan ahead. Aforethought beats hindsight every time. So have a strategy ready. For example, you (hopefully) know how you respond to alcohol. Enjoy a drink or two, but don’t get so relaxed that you forget about all your good intentions and give in to every temptation that comes your way. If you have concerns in this regard, you may consider volunteering as a designated driver. That will give you a valid reason to hold back and you won’t be urged to drink more than you should. Also keep in mind that alcoholic beverages have lots of calories and can cause weight gain as much as food does.

Hors d’oeuvres should also be approached with caution. They are hard to keep track of of, but they all count. When the trays arrive, choose the ones with the lightest ingredients. Cheese and crackers may be yummy, but they are loaded with calories and fat. How about carrot sticks with a nonfat spinach dip instead? Too boring? Seafood items (e.g. sushi or shellfish) are lighter than most meats. Filled mushrooms have probably less calories (depending on the filling) than mini pizzas, sliders or bite-size quiches – some of which provide almost a full meal.

Keep your guard up when a buffet or banquet is on display and you are asked to help yourself. Never forget that your eyes may be bigger than your stomach. An elegantly arranged presentation of delicious food can be enormously seductive. This is the time to be strong and resist the urge of unrestrained gluttony – right? (Whom am I kidding?)

If your party includes a sit-down dinner, your options are a bit more limited. Hopefully, you are left in charge of your own portion sizes. If not, tell your host to go easy on certain items before you are handed your plate. This can be done in tactful and polite ways where you don’t cause hurt feelings but also get your needs met. If you are not comfortable with the thought of refusing well-meaning offers, you may have to think of a standard excuse that sticks. If all else fails, say you are allergic against this, that and the other. Most people will respect that and pity you instead.

Some folks hope to escape extra weight gain by skipping meals before it’s time to party. Disrupting your usual eating patterns, however, will only make you more vulnerable to the temptations you are about to encounter. So don’t fast before you feast! Rather eat a small but nutritious snack shortly before your event starts, so you don’t arrive absolutely ravenous.

Be mindful that, although food is at the center of many celebrations (not only for us but in many cultures around the world), we also celebrate each other’s company. The holiday season is often a time for family reunions. Your loved ones will appreciate hearing that you missed them and that you had been looking forward to seeing them – whether you eat lots of food or not. Your reconnecting with one another can take place on a deeper level.

Having said that, I also want to emphasize the social aspect of healthy eating. One of my favorite diets is the so-called “Mediterranean diet,” which is widely praised for its dominance of fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood and its restrained use of meat and poultry. One essential element, however, remains too often overlooked – that is the Mediterranean way of life.

The Mediterranean culture is well known for its appreciation of a leisurely lifestyle. Families love to gather around the dinner table where they spend long hours eating together. Belonging and sharing each other’s company are as important as the food that is served. Everyone across the generations is included. Weather permitting, the furniture gets dragged outside in the courtyard where friends and neighbors join in without explicit invitation. The eating goes on and on, and yet there are few signs of obesity and other diet-related health issues. One of the reasons may be that people take the time to enjoy both food and company, which is what all celebrations should be about. Happy Holidays! If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Everything in Moderation” and “Why You Need a Dining Out Strategy.”

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