Holidays aren’t supposed to be for healthy eating. In the case of holiday food, that means eating whatever you want. Seriously!
The reasoning is simple: research published in the journals Appetite and Eating Behaviors supports the notion that giving into a guilty pleasure is more effective at keeping weight off long term than trying to suppress it. The studies showed that when you indulged in craving, it helped to reduce binge eating and decreased subsequent cravings.
A single slice of pie never made anyone overweight. And to paraphrase Marion Nestle, Ph.D., MPH, a nutrition professor at NYU, a day of indulgence isn’t going to completely derail your diet—it’s those other three-hundred-and-sixty-odd days that really matter. So go ahead, and dollop on another helping of mashed potatoes, but before you do, make sure to read up on these simple tips that will help keep you from overdoing it.
- Start Your Day with a Good Breakfast
It’s likely to be the one meal you’ll have complete control of during the holiday season. Although some people choose to skip breakfast to save themselves calories, eating this meal will actually help your body regulate its blood sugar levels throughout the day (which can prevent those dreaded sugar spikes that leave you starving soon after you finish eating) and can help you feel full enough to pass on some deleterious appetizers (pimento cheese, we’re looking at you). Plus, it’s one way to ensure you’re eating anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich fruits that are less common in holiday feasts.
A slice of whole grain toast, smeared with Greek yogurt, and topped with arugula, tomato, smoked salmon, and an egg. Your game plan is simple: ditch simple carbs, grab some whole fruits, and load up on slow-digesting protein. The smoked salmon provides you with healthy omega-3 fatty acids called DHA; a UCLA study found a diet rich in these fats could help reverse the DNA-damaging changes caused by fructose in sugary foods (like all those cookies you’re about to eat). The fish, yogurt, and egg serve up a solid dose of protein: the macronutrient that research from Imperial College London found helps stave off overeating by increasing the appetite-suppressing hormone GLP-1 and reducing levels of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin. You don’t have to limit the power of protein to breakfast, try incorporating these Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss at every meal.
- Serve Yourself Veggies First
Those green beans and brussels sprouts should be the first thing on your plate. According to a PLoS One study, diners make better choices when healthy foods are placed in front of diners at the beginning of a food line. So when you serve yourself veggies first, you’ll be more likely to make healthier choices by the time you mosey on over to the mashed potatoes and dessert table.
- Eat Veggies First
Not only will they be the first thing on your plate, but veggies should also be the first thing in your mouth. Because most produce finds a place on our list of high fiber foods, digging into these options first can help fill you up thanks to the fact that your body digests fiber slowly.
- Play Outside
Whether it’s going on the traditional pre-meal family hike, participating in the classic post-dinner football game, or going sledding, just get moving! Spending the holidays with family usually means sitting around the house, so jump at any chance to participate in an activity that helps get your heart rate up and thus helps you burn some calories.
- Seek Out Sup
If you’re trying to figure out what to make yourself as a quick lunch before you head over to your in-laws, why not warm up a cup of soup? Penn State researchers found that when you eat an appetizer of a broth-based soup before your meal, you can reduce the number of calories you eat at your main meal by up to 20 percent.
- Choose Crunchy Foods
Sweet potato casserole, steamed peas, baked ham—a lot of food served during the holidays is mushy, which might tell our bodies that we’re eating food as effectively as crunchy food does. Lisa Hayim MS, RD, and founder of The Well Necessities explains to us, “These types of foods do not satisfy us because they do not require mastication. Without mastication, often times our body does not feel satisfied as it would be compared to foods that require chewing.” Seek out crunchy foods like a crudite platter of fresh veggies, some cheese and crackers, or crisp green beans.
- Continue to Sleep on a Regular Schedule
It may be tradition to stay up late watching Christmas movies, but don’t feel shy in deciding to turn in early. When researchers at King’s College London did a meta-analysis of 11 existing sleep studies, they found that after a night of limited sleep, people ate an average of 385 more calories the next day compared to people who got their 8 hours. University of Chicago researchers predict that part of the reason you eat more when you get too little sleep is because your body increases production of a chemical called 2-AG, which makes high-calorie food (a staple of every holiday meal) more appealing.
- Stay Hydrated
Staying properly hydrated both keeps your tummy feeling full (while ensuring you don’t feel bloated) and ensures you won’t fall prey to grabbing a bite to eat because you think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty, which a study published in Physiology & Behaviour found people do over 60 percent of the time. Either walk around with a glass of water, or choose alcoholic beverages that have some hydrating component: a wine spritzer, a simple vodka soda, or a cozy hot toddy.
- Chat with Your Family at Dinner
Yes, there’s always the initial awkward small talk in the beginning of the day, but we trust you’ll get through it after your first drink (see tip above). Plus, when you start to catch up with Uncle Larry as he tells you about his new interest in whittling and you tell him about how you’ve taken up meditation classes, you’ll have to take a minute, finish chewing your food, and put down your fork. Doing so means it’ll take longer to finish your meal, which is a good thing since it takes your brain roughly 20 minutes to register that your belly is full. You’ll end up eating less than when you scarf down the entire meal in under 10 minutes all while learning more about your family. It’s a win-win!
- Eat at The Table, Not In Front of TV
It’s easy to fall prey to distracted eating (one of the main reasons why you’re always hungry) when your nieces and nephews are circling your dinner table like a school of sharks, your host is busy attempting to get a red wine stain out of the carpet, and your cousin is trying her hand at playing a Christmas song on the piano. Although holidays can be hectic, if there’s one thing you should do during the meal, it’s eating at a table—not in front of the T.V. that’s blasting sports. Researchers have found that when you can’t hear yourself chew or your brain is preoccupied with watching that replay, it could prevent your body from registering the satiety cues that alert you you’ve eaten your fill.
- Don’t Stress
Between gathering up the crew to get over to grandma’s, making sure dinner is on the table at the right time, and scrambling to get the best deal during holiday shopping, this time of year can get more stressful than merry. But with great stress comes great weight gain, as stress increases your body’s production of the fat-storing hormone cortisol. So when we say don’t stress about eating that extra serving of stuffing, we mean it!
- Don’t Try to Deprive Yourself
Dieters who try to suppress those cravings for a gingerbread cookie can actually end up with more cravings, and, even worse, it could lead to binge eating at your next meal, according to a study published in the journal Eating Behaviours. So we give you permission to enjoy the holidays and eat whatever you want! (It’s what’s best for you, after all.)
- Eat Off a Smaller Plate
It’s hard not to load up your plate around the holidays, especially if your family likes to eat buffet-style. But you can still pack your plate and avoid a holiday binge—if you stick to a smaller plate. Grab a salad plate instead and pile it high with your favorite foods. Not only will you end up eating smaller portions, but your eyes will trick you into believing you are eating more than you really are.
- Warm Up With Tea
When the temperature drops and your family is cozying up by the fire, it may be tempting to reach for a mug of hot cocoa. But opting for tea could help you warm up, de-bloat, and feel fuller—all without the excess calories and sugar of hot chocolate. We suggest green tea for its fat-fighting catechins, which trigger the release of fat from fat cells, especially in the belly. If you’re sipping on something at night, opt for soothing mint tea, which mimics the taste of peppermint-goodness around the holidays, but crushes sugar cravings.
- Avoid Grazing
With so many delicious meals being made in the kitchen and platters of Christmas cookies and appetizers seemingly everywhere, it’s easy to mindlessly munch all day during the holidays. However, this results in hundreds of excess calories ingested before you even sit down to mealtime. Plus, if you’re stuffing your face while hunched over the counter, you could end up overdoing it by the time dinner rolls around anyway—studies have found that people who stand while eating end up scarfing down 30 percent more at their next meal compared to those who sit. To avoid grazing, stick to your mealtimes with family and enjoy the food with everyone then. If you find yourself hungry in between meals, snack on some fibrous fruit or nuts (instead of the charcuterie tray) to tide you over until everyone sits down to eat.