By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director
During this busy season of crazy schedules—holiday shopping, baking, decorating, family gatherings and celebratory meals—I have a tough time sticking to my healthy eating habits. In fact, eating healthy during the holidays sometimes seems like an impossible challenge. All around me I’m faced with delicious sweets, gift baskets filled with yummy cheeses and meats, rich egg nog drinks, and platters overflowing with fattening foods. Can you blame me when faced with these temptations? Chances are you can’t blame me. In fact, you probably join me!
Most of us utter some form of “I’ll start eating healthy again in the New Year,” and then we proceed to stuff ourselves from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. We’re uncomfortably full. Most of us don’t pile our plate like that on a regular day, but during the holidays it would be rude not to try every dish, so pass the pie please!
Blame The Brain?
Research has shown that our brains can easily override our bodies’ signals to stop eating, even when we know the consequences will be unpleasant. While one incredibly heavy meal won’t make us fat, it can make us terribly uncomfortable. It’s harder to breath, we’re drowsy, bloated and gassy, irritable, and even sick. Blame the brain? Maybe. When we’re stuffed with comforting food our brain triggers a warm feeling inside. It’s actually comes from a primal instinct to eat a lot as often as we can, preparing us for hard times when food might not be as easily available: like the squirrels storing up for the winter. The real bummer is that our brain rewards us for it by releasing pleasure chemicals. A recent study suggested that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin!
So now that we know all of this, how can we fight against our body and brain taking over our eating habits during this holiday season? First off, simply knowing this will help. Be aware of not only the challenge of more parties and extra food, but also how the brain and body respond to it all.
Tips For A Healthier Holiday
Besides paying attention the brain body responses, follow some of these tips:
- You don’t have to quit “cold turkey” all the savory holiday foods. Remind yourself that you don’t have to overindulge everyday. Decide to eat as healthy as possible on most days, and then give yourself the “go-ahead” to enjoy a few of your favorite foods throughout the month… guilt-free!
- Now is probably not a good time to go on a diet. Instead of trying to shed extra pounds during the holiday season, focus on maintaining your current weight.
- Stop making food your number one thought. There are some yummy foods we wait all year to consume, but instead of focusing on what’s going to be part of the spread, think about the company you keep, the conversations, the traditions, and the good times. Don’t make it only about the food, make it about the people.
- Grill, roast, and bake as often as you can. Go light on the creams and gravies.
- Don’t put all the food on the table. When we have to get up for a serving we traditionally eat less.
- Eat before you eat! Seriously! Maybe not right before, but the tendency on holidays is to starve in preparation for the big feast. Don’t deprive yourself before your Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch (unless your feast is at noon), enjoy your usual in-between snacks throughout the day, and come to the table like you would on any other day. If you show up at dinner starving, you’ll be more likely to overeat and your body will have a harder time digesting the heavy meal.
- Take time to savor your food on your days to indulge. Pace yourself, chew slowly, and enjoy each bite. Make each bite smaller and put your fork down once in a while to chew and talk with the other people at the table. It actually takes time for your body to realize it’s full, so the slower you eat, the more likely you will be to stop before you are over full.
- Continue to stay active during the holiday season. Not only does physical activity relieve the added stress of the holidays, it will give you the motivation to eat healthy when it’s not party time. Even if you’re significantly busier this month, don’t skip your workouts. Beyond burning calories, a workout can boost your mood for up to 12 hours; a much-needed perk during this hectic season. Get creative to keep moving your body. Walk the Trail of Lights, walk through a decorated neighborhood, bundle up for a fun game of Frizbee, or take the dog for a walk!
Enjoy the months ahead, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals when you can, watch portion sizes, don’t restrict yourself from enjoying some of your favorite holiday foods, and stay as active as you can. Most importantly, don’t forget that the holidays are for celebrating with family and friends.
And if you totally blow it? Join us January 10 for our Annual GetFit! Day.
Happy Holiday’s From Ballet Austin!