Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Fear the Holiday Foods

It can be difficult to maintain healthy eating habits during the holidays when you find yourself surrounded by cookie trays, candy gift-boxes and TONS of special holiday foods.  These next two weeks might seem like one huge holiday smorgasbord.  Dinner parties can be difficult to navigate, and those obligatory after work happy hours may begin to feel like dietary landmines.  So, does it have to come down to “sink or swim” in the realm of healthy food choices during the month of December?
For starters, don’t set yourself up for failure by assigning all foods the moral labels “good” or “bad”.  Food should not be morally defined.  When we place foods into these moral categories
, we tend to view eating one “bad” food as “messing up”, and then we are more likely to feel that there is no hope in being “good”, so we just eat the “bad” stuff since we can’t realistically stay “good” all the time.  Rather than deciding you need to avoid all “bad” foods, and are only being “good” if you’re eating “good” foods, look at food from a different perspective.  Categorize foods into those that add to your health and those that detract from it.  Then make food selections based on having the majority of your food-intake be foods that add to your health about 90% of the time.  10% of the time, indulge yourself in the other stuff.  Just be sure to decide what those “10% foods” should be.  Rather than mindlessly grazing from every party platter that passes your way (do you REALLY like that fruit cake?), be purposeful to only select the treats that you REALLY like.  Don’t completely pass up Aunt Janie’s chocolate truffles, just don’t eat a dozen of them.
Foods that add to your health are those with vital nutrients; those based on REAL ingredients, and that give you the biggest nutritional bang per calorie.  Those that detract from your health are those that are not primarily based on REAL foods, rather, they are based around sugars, fats, and simple carbs.  Digesting sugar actually draws important nutrients from your body, and especially during this hectic time of year, we need all the nutrients we can get.  All the more reason to be intentional about adding in as many nutrient-dense foods as possible, for added insurance.
Another tip is to choose your treats wisely.  Pumpkin pie gives you more nutrients than coconut cream pie since pumpkins are packed with vitamin A and beta carotene, and coconut cream pie is primarily “cream”.  Oatmeal cookies offer more fiber than sugar cookies.  Carrot cake has more to offer you, nutritionally, than chocolate cake does.  When making selections, rather than deciding that you can’t eat anything, see which of your choices are the wiser ones, and even then, opt for reasonable portions.
In order to “save up” calories for a party, many people starve themselves all day, only to arrive at the party famished and willing to eat any and everything in sight.  These party binges often result in consuming more calories than anyone should eat in an entire day, much less in one meal.  A smarter option would be to actually eat wisely the day of the party, aiming to have as much fruit and vegetables as possible during regular mealtimes, that way you’ve loaded up on nutrients and have satisfied some of your flavor and textural cravings, leaving you better able to differentiate between true hunger and eating simply because the food is available.  While at the party, opt for foods that are not cheesy and creamy, skipping meat that wrapped in bacon or buttery crusts, foods smothered in sauces, and heavy, creamy dense desserts unless it is a dish that you absolutely love, and even then, eat it in moderation!
Plan.  Anticipate. Treat yourself with kindness.