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.
- 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.