General One Change at a Time

One Change at a Time: Healthy Holiday Eating

When it comes to “one change at a time”, healthy holiday eating for me falls under the “pot calling the kettle…” heading. It just seems like every time I turn around, there is food. And it’s never the healthy stuff; it’s comfort foods, baked goods, desserts, fancy cocktails, and candy. For me, it’s really hard not to fall off the wagon this time of the year. I am researching and writing about healthy eating, not just for you but to keep myself on the path of eating healthier and maintaining the weight loss I’ve achieved in the last few years. I am hoping that incorporating these healthy holiday eating tips into my own routine will make staying on the wagon a bit easier. I hope they will help you stay healthier this holiday season and for many holidays to come as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends several great tips for healthy holiday eating. The first thing to do is create a holiday eating plan because you cannot always control the food that is around you. Plan to keep meals at the same times as usual; it will help keep your blood sugar steady, and you will be less likely to feel hungry and overeat. If a meal is served later than normal, have a small snack at the usual time and eat a little less at the meal. Offer to bring a healthy dish to holiday meals and parties so you and others have healthy options.

As Miranda Boyer, RDN, LD, clinical dietician at Steward, advises, “everything in moderation”; you don’t have to deprive yourself of that once-a-year treat. Plan for it by cutting back on other high-carb or high-fat options and taking a small serving to savor. Don’t skip meals to feast later; remember that breakfast is particularly important. If you skip meals, you will tend to overeat because you are very hungry. Remember, portion control is also a big part of healthier eating. A good trick to help with portion control is to use a small plate (a small plate tricks your brain into thinking you are eating more) and don’t overfill your plate. If the meal is buffet-style, instead of getting in line right away, walk past the selections and look at all the options. Then, while you are in line, plan what you will and will not choose. That way, you will choose the things you really want versus having “a little bit of everything” and overeating. As long as they are not covered in butter or sauces, vegetables are a great choice to keep your stomach full and your calories low. Vegetables are loaded with fiber, which will make you feel fuller, too. Remember to take small bites and eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to know your stomach is full, so eating slowly will let you know when you are full rather than overeating and being miserable later.

During the holidays, along with the desserts and comfort foods, there is alcohol. Part of eating more healthily during the holidays also means avoiding or limiting alcohol. Cocktails can contain significant calories, and the alcohol in them can make it harder to say no to tempting foods. There is a reason “bar food” and comfort foods have a lot in common. Those kinds of foods make you want to drink more, which, in turn, makes you want to eat more.

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself, not only during the holidays but throughout the year. Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which helps with all the stresses of the holiday season. If you are a stress eater, like I am, exercise helps you reduce that urge as well. It also increases your caloric needs, so you can indulge a little more and not put on extra pounds. If you aren’t a person who likes formal exercise routines, consider options like taking a walk or going to the park with the kids between the holiday meal and dessert. When shopping, park a little further away than you normally would to add a few more steps to your routine, and take the stairs rather than escalators or elevators whenever possible. Walking is one of the best, easiest, and cheapest forms of exercise that delivers a host of benefits.

Finally, if you do “fall off the wagon”, forgive yourself and get back on. One extravagant dessert isn’t going to make you gain 10 or 15 pounds. One “heart attack on a plate” meal doesn’t cause chronic health issues. Those problems come when we use that one meal or dessert to give up on healthy eating, and that one meal becomes a pattern of unhealthy diet choices. Each of the topics we have discussed this year as small changes that can make a big difference in your health has one thing in common. That thing in common is don’t give up. If you make a mistake, “fall off the wagon”, or slip back into old habits, it’s okay. Just don’t give up. Success in making healthy changes is like pretty much everything else in life. Success doesn’t happen when people have no setbacks or make no mistakes; success happens when people go on despite those things.

I hope you have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.

Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center

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