By Ann Petersson, RDN, LDN Dietitian at Mid-State Health in Plymouth Owner of Nutrition Works NH LLC in Downtown Concord
Each year the holidays bring treasured once-a-year recipes, both savory and sweet, to our tables as we celebrate this special time of year. Along with holiday cheer, many of my clients report overindulgence in these foods feeling ill afterward. Often, they report overeating because they intentionally didn’t eat much throughout the day; saving their appetite for celebratory meals. This approach often causes intense, almost uncontrollable hunger that is only quelled with a plate that is overflowing and eaten rapidly.
For some holding back hunger cues throughout the day seem like a good strategy around the holidays however it’s usually unsuccessful. When we intentionally deprive our bodies of food, we often crave foods that are energy-dense like cookies, cakes, chocolate, candy, or highly processed foods like chips, crackers, fries. Our bodies know this food will give us quick energy only to leave us hungry or hungrier afterward.
How do we change this behavior?
Moderation and balance!
Eat three balanced meals at regular times, eat slowly, and mindfully until you feel comfortably full. What’s in a balanced meal? Fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates (whole grains/starchy vegetables), protein foods like eggs, poultry, meat, fish, beans, tofu or tempeh, fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and even butter in moderation.
Portion Control: Try to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables with ¼ plate of protein and ¼ plate complex carbohydrates with a bit of fat added to the meal or used in meal preparation. If you enjoy something sweet, salty, or both after a meal then have it! It’s better to have a moderate portion of these foods with your meal as it will digest with the other foods reducing cravings.
Holiday Drinks: When having cocktails, wine or beer try to have them either with the meal or with appetizers using the same approach of savoring them as you eat them slowly and mindfully. This helps your brain and your stomach communicate feelings of fullness and satisfaction leading to fewer cravings.
Pro Tip: Here’s a simple way to eat in moderation when there are too many delicious holiday foods served. Fill your plate with a small serving spoonful of everything that looks appetizing to you, then eat it slowly and mindfully, chewing well to savor every bite. Allow your body about 20 minutes to feel your fullness. If you still feel hungry you can repeat this technique but you may be surprised how full and satisfied you are because you didn’t deprive yourself throughout the day and you had a bite or two of all the holiday foods you enjoy at this time of year.
Ann's Energy Bites Recipe
These little energy bites can be stored in the freezer or fridge for a quick snack that is balanced with protein and fat from the nut butter and seeds some complex carbohydrates from the oatmeal and a little sweetness from dried fruit.
Crispy Nut and Seed Bites with Peanut Butter and Chocolate
- 1⁄2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
•1⁄2 c rice crisp cereal
•1/4 c. chopped nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, or almonds •2 T. sunflower seeds
•1/4 t. cinnamon
•1/8 t. sea salt
•1/4 c. + 2 T. nut or seed butter of your choice
•1/8 c. honey
•1/2 t. vanilla extract
•2 T. raisins or craisins
•Optional: 1/4 c. semi sweet chocolate morsels
Method: mix nut butter with honey, vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Add oats rice crisp cereal, nuts/seeds and raisins/craisins. Mix well. Use a teaspoon to scoop a small amount then roll into 1/2-1 inch diameter balls. Freeze or refrigerate until firm. Enjoy!
Here are some helpful reminders about health and safety during the holidays and the winter months ahead.
- Wash your hands often. Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing the “Birthday Song”). If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer.
- Cover your cough. Help stop the spread of germs that make you and others sick by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
- Stay warm. Cold temperatures can cause serious health issues, especially in infants and older adults. Stay dry and dress warmly in several layers of loose-fitting clothing.
- Manage stress. Stress can have a negative influence on the overall state of your health and wellbeing. Avoid over-commitment and over-spending. Try to find a balance between work, home, and play. Get support from family and friends. Plan ahead. Keep a relaxed and positive outlook.
- Be smoke-free. Avoid smoking and breathing other people’s smoke. If you smoke, quit today! Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or talk to your healthcare provider for help. Being smoke-free would be a great gift.
- Get check-ups and vaccinations. Exams and screenings can help find problems before they start. They can also help find problems early, when the chances for treatment are better. Vaccinations help prevent diseases and save lives. Schedule a visit with your healthcare provider for a yearly exam. Ask what vaccinations and tests you should get based on your age, travel plans, medical history, and family health history.
- Eat healthy and be active. Think balance and moderation. You can enjoy all the holidays has have to offer the healthy way. Choose fruit as a festive substitute for candy. Offer to bring a healthy alternative to a holiday party. Avoid food at parties and focus more on good conversations. Avoid consuming alcoholic beverages. Find fun ways to stay active, such as dancing to your favorite holiday music. Be active for at least 2 ½ hours a week. Help kids and teens be active for at least 1 hour each day.
- Handle and prepare food safely. As you prepare holiday meals, keep you and your family safe from food-related illness. Wash hands and surfaces often. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs (including their juices) from prepared food and eating surfaces. Cook foods to the proper temperature. Refrigerate promptly. Follow safety and preparation guidelines for all foods as indicated on the packaging.
- Prevent Injuries. Injuries from falls often occur around the holidays. Use a step stool
toinstead of furniture when hanging decorations. Children are at high-risk for injuries. Keep a watchful eye on your kids when they’re playing. Keep potentially dangerous toys, food, drinks, household items, choking hazards (like coins and hard candy), and other objects out of a child’s reach. Learn how to provide early treatment for children who are choking. Make sure toys are used properly.
- Prevent fire hazards. Most residential fires occur during the winter months. Keep candles away from children, pets, walkways, trees and curtains. Never leave fireplaces, stoves, or candles unattended. Don’t use generators, grills or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning devices inside your home or garage. Install a smoke detector in your home. Test and change the batteries regularly.
Enjoy the season and be safe, healthy and happy through the holidays.
Article adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -Office of Women’s Health “Holiday Health and Safety Tips” the full version is available here.