Head into the Holidays with a Healthy Plan
By Andrea Chapin, O2X Nutrition Specialist (MS, RD, CSSD)
The holidays are looking quite different this year, but one thing remains the same — all the food — and the temptation to go overboard! Many indulge now, swearing to change habits come January. This year, I challenge you to go in with a defensive game plan, so you can start 2021 feeling your best.
Holiday cheer often comes in the form of extra calories, which isn’t a problem here and there, but just 250 extra calories (looking at you, 1 cup of eggnog) a day can result in ½ pound weight gain per week. This may not sound like a lot, but over the holiday season, it really adds up!
The real problem is most people don’t lose the weight in the following months or years. The number of fat cells you have never decreases; if you lose weight they just shrink in size. It’s best to not pack on extra pounds in the first place.
While weight loss during the holidays may be off the table, aiming to “maintain not gain” is a reasonable goal. Here’s how:
1. Maintain, Don’t Gain
Stay active, aim to keep to a regular eating schedule, and build a performance plate to fuel your lifestyle: always prioritize protein and produce, and flex the amount of carbohydrates you’re eating to match your activity level each day. Carbohydrates are necessary, surrounding exercise or the most active part of your day, but the further away you are from physical work, the fewer carbohydrate-rich foods you need at that meal.
2. Watch your Plate
One quarter of your plate should be lean protein (fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef/pork), one quarter to a third of your plate whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, pasta) or starchy vegetables (beans, potatoes, peas, corn), and the rest of your plate (half or more!) should be colorful vegetables.
Flavor your food with healthy fat (olive oil, avocado, nuts) and seasonings.
3. Take your Time
Eating the protein food first will help with satiety and blood sugar regulation. The message our stomach sends to our brain to signal we are full takes upwards of 10-15 minutes! How long does it take you to eat a meal? Lengthen the time it takes you to eat by setting your utensil down in between bites, drink water with your meal, and enjoy conversation with coworkers, family, or friends.
If you are gathering for evening festivities, prioritize protein, produce, and healthy fats at breakfast, lunch, and in snacks throughout the day to ensure you don’t arrive to the party famished. Go-to combos include Greek yogurt + berries, protein powder blended in a green smoothie, a handful nuts + fresh fruit, beef jerky + popcorn, and hard boiled eggs + veggie sticks. Suggest going for an “oxygen cocktail” (aka walk), dancing, or playing an active game after eating to help promote digestion and utilization, instead of storage, of the energy.
4. Drink Moderately (if at all)
Don’t drink your calories. Since there is no storage form of alcohol in our body, our liver has to metabolize it right away, putting metabolism of fat and carbohydrates on the back burner. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. Moderation is defined as two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women, and, unfortunately, you can’t save all your drinks up throughout the week to use during the weekend!
One standard drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol, and is roughly 12 oz beer (5% ABV), 5 oz wine (12% ABV), or 1.5 oz spirits (80-proof, 40% ABV). Never drink on an empty stomach. Space alcoholic drinks out and alternate with drinking water between, try lower calorie options like spritzers, seltzers, light beer, spirits with low- or calorie-free mixers, or abstain altogether with a mocktail (Peep the newest company to sponsor dry January: Ritual.)
5. Enlist a Taste-tester
If you’re in charge of baking sweet treats, apply the same strategy as when you go grocery shopping: don’t start hungry! Eat your regular performance plate meal, and if taste-testing of baked goods is needed, enlist the help of others or sample judiciously. Most recipes can withstand reducing the sugar by ¼ cup without compromising texture or flavor. Google a new recipe that uses more whole foods (I recommend www.sweetsyoucaneat.com).
6. Give Healthy Gifts
If gift giving and receiving are part of your holiday tradition, check out something that supports a healthy lifestyle, like new workout clothes or shoes, home workout equipment for training with the O2X app, a blender or kitchen gadget to make meal prep easier, a reusable water bottle, or a meal service subscription.
7. Think of Yourself too
Don’t forget the ME in Merry; you can’t be your best for your loved ones if you aren’t showing up for yourself first. Take a few moments to think about what energizes you, and pencil it in. Spend a few minutes a day in nature, non-negotiable sleep hours, set aside quiet time for meditation (try an app!), yoga or mobility videos, and take time to connect in person or virtually with family and friends. Part of your health is your happiness.