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Fight Festive Failure

BrazilianCobSalad Recently, I was visiting with a client who has accomplished a great deal towards improving her health and meeting her goals of healthy eating, regular exercise and special quiet time for herself. But when the subject of the holidays came up, her mood shifted to one of downright dread over the slew of parties she was facing between her job, her husband's work, and invitations from a number of friends. Her fears of what she calls "festive failure" are very real and affect a number of us with good intentions each holiday season. For those of us who want to eat well and maintain good health, parties can be a stressful experience, often leading to guilt and a sense of failure. Not to mention that typical holiday fare can include lots of starchy, sweet and fatty foods! Here's my bag of holiday party survival tricks:
  • First and foremost, never go to a holiday party starving! Eat a small snack before to keep your hunger under control. Maybe a handful of nuts, some whole grain crackers, a slice of cheese, a piece of fresh fruit, etc.
  • hummus
  • At the party, start with the veggie/fruit platter. Sideline the dips, dressings and spreads.
  • Avoid fried foods and foods floating in oil or butter or margarine!
  • Trim excess fat from meat.
  • Choose whole grain rolls and bread instead of the white stuff.
  • Only choose foods you know you will enjoy. Don't waste your calories on foods that are mediocre or not your favorites.
  • Savor your food - enjoy the flavors and aroma, and chew thoroughly. This can help give your body a chance to feel satisfied without overeating.
  • Try not to hang out at the food table at the party. Mingle, socialize and move away from the temptation of more food.
  • When it comes to dessert, don't waste (or shall I say "waist") your calories on what is not absolutely delicious to you.
If you know you have a party - or several parties - coming up, be especially mindful of your other meals at home, work and eating out. By no means should you starve yourself - that will surely backfire! Rather, keep your choices healthy and balanced, skip rich desserts and heavy fatty foods, instead choosing light fare and naturally sweet treats such as fresh fruit. When faced with holiday buffets, which can represent a smorgasbord of gastronomical disaster, focus on healthier choices:
  • Baked, broiled, or grilled salmon or other fish
  • Shrimp with cocktail sauce
  • Raw veggies with hummus dip
  • Salads with olive oil and vinegar or fresh lemon wedges
  • Steamed or sautéed veggies
  • Rice pilaf, mashed potatoes, potato salad, or a whole grain roll (1 serving)
  • Choose sliced lean roast beef, lean ham, sliced turkey breast (1 serving)
  • Greens, greens, and even more greens … whenever possible: choose what is green (but not the lime jello!)
Another potential pitfall of the holiday season is the office! Donuts, holiday cookies, candies, cakes, pies and that ever-ancient fruitcake show up on desktops and in employee lounges, at meetings and as gifts. This can be an even greater challenge than parties! My answer:
  • Move yourself away from the food! Keep it away from your desk and tell your coworkers "no thanks" if you have to.
  • Bring in healthy snacks for yourself and/or your office - fresh fruit and veggies, dried fruits for a sweet treat, healthy dips such as hummus and vegetarian bean dip, and natural whole grain crackers and real cheese (none of the processed junk!)
  • If you really want something "bad," take just a little and eat it slowly.
  • See it for what it is! Often, these "goodies" are loaded with white sugar, solid white vegetable shortening, artificial colors, preservatives and flavorings. Remind yourself that you would rather wait and enjoy real and delicious treats made from wholesome, natural ingredients... far more delicious and ultimately much more satisfying!
Whatever happens, be kind to yourself and remember that if you over indulge, it's not the end of the world and you can get back on track again. Don't beat yourself up! If you have ideas and helpful tips for navigating through the slew of holiday parties, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Israel Epstein says …

I recently gave up sugar, because I read an article in Men's Journal by Steve Nash that it changed his life when he did so. I'm looking forward to Hannukah, but not the parties. Sugary, fried jelly donuts - YUM but no good. BTW, thanks for your terrific post of March 16th, which I pulled up via Google. You answered a lot of my questions, particularly regarding natural sugar in fruits. I guess I don't have to give up grapes and dates. Also, I didn't realize that brown rice syrup was a type of sugar. There go my Clif bars. I heard that quaffing an ounce of apple cider vinegar before meals was a good appetite supressant. Thoughts?

barbara says …

My rule for baked goods is to only consider eating those that are homemade ... from scratch ... these almost always taste the best, and typically have the least "bad" ingredients, in terms of additives, etc. I've been doing this for a couple of years throughout the year, and my desire for commercial sweet treats has dropped to almost nothing. I pass them by now with scarcely a backward glance. - B

R. Ripaldi says …

Good tips, this time of year is really difficult to stay on track.

mearph says …

Good article. Most of it was things I already 'know.' But, sometimes you need to be reminded so its at the forefront of your mind. Onion Dip w/ potato chips is my nemesis. Of course, the fake kind made with the powder mix. I have found that the only thing that works is to not even have one chips worth. Just the taste in my mouth makes me start downing it like crazy! And then I have a stomach ache from all the bad stuff in the mix and all the fat! If I can resist and only eat things that are natural or wholesome...even if higher in fat or calories I feel much better. It seems like my body can process that stuff quickly as opposed to the 'fake' stuff that is supposed to be better for you. I second the approach to only eating 'made-from-scratch' baked goods. I too hardly eat store-bought baked goods and if I have a weak moment and give in I always regret it because it wasn't worth it. I now can actually taste when foods have artificial sweeteners, etc. in them. Even though they say 'you can't tell the difference' you can! My body knows!

Jeanette B. says …

Thank you for the helpful tips. I especially love dried fruit and hummus. Yummy treats any time of year.

Zlatka says …

Love the article, it's reminding us of what is best for us, not only in terms for our appearance, but for our health. I completely agree with Barbara: home-made goods rock!!! Period. I love cooking and baking for my family, and rarely buy anything processed. It's part of our lives and my husband loves the variety and taste when I try new recipes. My kids too! Tip for cooking brown rice, bulgur and barley: I tried the Foodnetwork recipe (Alton Brown) for baked brown rice/barley and loved it! Just pour boiling water with some oil (olive, etc) and salt over cup of the grains in a pan, cover with foil and stick in the oven @ 350 for an hour. Delicious (and healthy)!!! Happy Holidays!

kath h says …

Great blog! Thanks for the ideas!

Deirdre Golash says …

Here are my favorite holiday eating tips: http://seniorliving.about.com/od/entertainmentrecreation/a/holidayeattips.htm

Mrs. Retha K. Naylor says …

Sharing my tips: After the gathering plan an active tradition, such as going bowling. Make it a point to visit with each person present at the gathering instead of filling up on food.