Random Thoughts of a Dietitian: Post #3, Holiday Edition
In the world of fitness, we have a term that we refer to as the "Trifecta of Health" which includes: [Nutrition/hydration], [exercise], and [sleep]. This "Trifecta of Health" entails the three most important areas for a person to focus on when pursuing any nutrition-related goal.
During the holidays, hydration & sleep are usually not the main areas to come undone; even exercise can be consistent, with effort. Nutrition, though, is another situation entirely.
There are a litany of health hurdles that are unique to the months of November, December, and January, such as:
-Eating while traveling
-Time off -> Lack of routine -> Decomposition of meal schedule
-Emotional eating (Could be "good" emotions, or "not so good" emotions)
-Sweets & pastries
-Fatty/starchy family-style meals
-Increased consumption of alcohol
-Shopping on an empty stomach -> Making unusual food choices when eating out
As a result, we know the average American can expect to gain roughly 8 lbs during the holidays.
In this edition of "Random Thoughts of a Dietitian", we're going to discuss my top three favorite tips for navigating the holidays. More specifically, these tips are not intended to help you actively progress toward your health goals, but rather, to help prevent unnecessary weight gain in the last two weeks of the year. With all that in mind, let's get into it:
Tip #1: Drink a glass of water before eating a rich, high-calorie meal.
It can be easy to go into a meal feeling like you're starving, when in reality, you might just be thirsty. While your stomach & brain are great at communicating, sometimes they can confuse the signals for thirst and hunger. So, you might think you're a 9 out of 10 hungry, when you're actually just a 6/10 hungry, and 3/10 thirsty.
For this reason, I suggest that everyone drink a solid 16 oz glass of water before starting a meal rich in fat & starch. This will help eliminate a phenomenon that I refer to as "Thirst-Hunger", and allow you to have a much better idea of how hungry you actually are, before you have 2,300 calories' worth of ham & mashed potatoes.
Tip #2: Don't starve yourself going into a big meal.
Your blood sugar is almost exclusively determined by what you eat, and your hormones often mirror changes in your blood sugar. In particular, there is a hunger hormone called"ghrelin" that is secreted when you feel hungry. This means: When blood sugar is low (as a result of not eating enough), ghrelin will be elevated, as is your propensity to eat in excess. So, if you skip your breakfast & lunch in anticipation of a big holiday meal, your blood sugar will dip, ghrelin will increase, and you will eat more at the big holiday meal as a result.
Not only that, but you will also more than likely end up eating more calories over the whole 24-hour period, compared to if you would have had breakfast, and a balanced lunch, before going into your big meal. Considering that, I always advise my clients/patients to have at least one full meal that includes [starch, protein, and fat] before going into a big holiday meal.
Tip #3: Get your own portion of finger foods/desserts.
When you're around people you love, it can be really easy to get comfortable and eat in a way you might not eat in other environments. In particular, when the hors d'oeuvres or desserts come out, you might be tempted to reach directly into the serving dish. This is not an optimal strategy, as we know that a person will tend to eat more food if they understand they have a virtually unlimited source of food; you don't appreciate it as much, and it's also impossible to mentally track how much you've had if you're eating out of the same tray as everyone else.
With all this in mind, I encourage all of my friends & family to get their own portion of appetizers, instead of eating straight out of the serving tray.
A few things to note about this one:
-Make a contract with yourself: "It is the holidays, and this is a special experience, so I am going to allow myself to enjoy this portion, and not beat myself up about maybe going over my calories/macros for the day. But once this portion is done, I will hold off until the main course comes out." It is fine to go over your calories/macros; give yourself grace. But if we can also minimize that deviation, it's a win-win.
-Get a portion that is actually going to satisfy you. Get a hearty serving of cheese & crackers. I can guarantee that, regardless of the amount you put on your plate (even if it seems like too much), you will eat less than you would have if you ate straight from the charcuterie board.
-Be conscious of your surroundings; other people's actions/habits can have a massive influence on your choices. So, if everyone around you is immediately getting up after they finish their plate, you are much more likely to do the same if you aren't conscious of this effect.
If you can focus on experimenting with these strategies, and nothing else, you will modulate food intake & eat less as a result. Again, you won't achieve massive fat loss using these tips, but this type of mindful eating can prevent a person from gaining another 5 lbs, that they'll then have to lose in 2023.
Until next time,
Tim Smith MS, RD, LDN