December is here once again. Memories and traditions of past holiday seasons often revolve around the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of Christmas and Hanukkah goodies. As a child, my home was full of fragrance each December: the smell of hot chocolate warming on the stove, the woodsy scent of the fir Christmas tree, and the fresh pine garland that graced the mantles in our home. The mouth-watering scents of cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, coconut, and chocolate drifted throughout the house as my mother baked her traditional holiday goodies. There were cookie swaps and parties, and the buffet in our dining room was laden daily with holiday treats and candies.
Throughout history and across cultures the hallmark of any celebration has always been food. No doubt the Christmas season brings challenges to our eating habits. I shudder to imagine how many pounds of sugar we are exposed to during this one month alone. Let’s take a minute to think about ways to keep those Sugar Plums dancing in our heads and not on our hips! Here are some easy ways we can navigate through the maze of holiday sweets and treats and come out on the other side glad we did.
- Plan ahead by looking at your holiday calendar now. Allow for some "cheat food/days". (This can be dangerous for those with extreme health concerns. Please consult your physician if you are not sure whether or not this would be acceptable to your condition). This doesn't mean we have to star in our own episode of Holidays Gone Wild, but most can have one “cheat” a week if your gut is healthy. There will always be some events that have no good choices on the table. Some choices will be better than others, so make the best choices available and scale down your portion sizes. Then ENJOY something you don't ordinarily eat! Remember that you have planned for this and you have control over what goes into your mouth. Food should not control us or make us feel guilty.
- Budget your calories. During the week be extra vigilant about your diet and exercise so you have some calories saved for weekend festivities. Just like managing your finances well, only spend what you have available. A great way to manage calorie budget is to park far from the store where you are shopping or take the stairs between levels of the mall. By practicing these habits, you never find yourself in the proverbial caloric red.
- Weigh yourself at the same time each day. Many people believe we should only hop on those scales once a week, but let's face it, accountability is a good thing. During the holidays nothing keeps us more accountable than the in-your-face numbers on the bathroom scales. A daily reminder will help you be more intentional about what goes into your mouth. As the old expression reminds us, “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.”
- If you are throwing the party or bringing a dish to another party , prepare some foods that you love and that are healthy choices. There will be others present who will be thankful you did.
- Never arrive at a party "hangry." Eat something healthy and filling before heading out to an event. By curbing our appetites with good choices, we will not be as tempted to pile our plates quite so high. Keep portion size in mind.
- If food is served buffet style, take an inconspicuous walk around the table noticing what choices are available before filling your plate. By doing so you will be able to plan out and make better choices. You can also decide on which foods you want to splurge.
- Remember the expression, "Out of sight, out of mind"? When you're at that fabulous party, consciously move away from the food set up after making your plate. This small action will save you from the temptation of going back for seconds. You will give yourself the gift of more time visiting with friends and family, instead of focusing on food.
- Limit your alcohol. Alcoholic beverages pack on extra calories as well as increase cravings and appetite. With inhibitions lowered, it’s easy to make poor food choices. Alcohol is also a toxin and must be detoxed through your hard-working liver.
- Remember the Thanksgiving episode of Friends when Joey tried to eat a whole turkey? He had to change out of his tight jeans with “no give” and into his stretchy Thanksgiving pants. I'm not saying you must wear tight clothes, but more structured garments give us a gentle reminder that our stomachs are full. Listen to those pants!
- Drink plenty of water. If you're not drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily, now is a great time to start. Similarly, if you have access to a sauna, make use of it. Both water and the sauna will help to flush out toxins from our bodies.
- Plan now to do a good detox at the start of the New Year. Purchase it now so you are ready to start detoxing January 2. A good detox will help to cleanse your liver and other organs that have been working overtime while you’ve been partying. It’s one of the best presents you can give yourself, and your body will love you for it.
The bottom line is that sugar is best kept as a Southern term of endearment toward your favorite person rather than something to consume en masse every December. Perhaps you have your own strategies to successfully navigate the minefield of holiday food. The idea is that with intentionality and mindfulness, we can truly celebrate without feeling deprived, enjoy a few splurges along the way, and know that a good detox is just around the corner.
*Disclaimer: It is ideal, and our preference, that each patient stick with any diet restrictions as discussed with your doctor. This article is not in any way meant to persuade or permit unhealthy choices at any time. It is merely a guide to those who are less restrictive, by their own decision, during certain situations.