Ah, the holidays – a time when the best laid plans about food and exercise fly out the window. For many of us, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is when well-intentioned office mates, neighbors, and friends bombard us with homemade cookies, rum butter balls and every other temptation imaginable. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest the sun goes down at 4 p.m. and getting outside becomes a distant memory.
But have no fear. There are steps you can take to mitigate those factors, starting with having a plan. While the holidays may not be the time to implement a new diet, you can be creative about how you manage your food intake and exercise routines. A lot of it is just common sense, says Dr. Justin Marasigan, a gastroenterologist at Grays Harbor Community Hospital.
- Have a plan. “People should be thinking about how they are going to eat during the holidays before they begin, and try to keep to their normal diets and routines as much as possible,” says Marasigan.
- Take smaller portions. Just because you can create a Close Encounters of the Third Kind-style mountain out of the available mashed potatoes doesn’t mean you should. Pay attention to how much you put on your plate. “Many people cannot resist or do not want to appear rude when offered a variety of seasonal food, so just eat small, reasonable portions and do not be pressured to overeat,” says Marasigan. That way you can still enjoy a bit of everything without completely stuffing yourself.
Stick to your regular exercise routine. If you normally go to the gym three days a week, make an effort to maintain that schedule. Aside from anything else, it will help to relieve any holiday-related stress. “It’s important for people to keep up with their physical activity,” Marasigan advises.
- Pick the healthy stuff first. Make sure to include some greens (or reds or yellows) on your plate and try eating those first. They’ll help you to feel full and reduce the temptation of the 25 assorted flavors of pies and cookies after dinner.
- Watch the booze. Densely rich food is not the only culprit during the holidays when alcohol consumption tends to increase. Wine, beer, Champagne and spirits all pack a caloric punch, one that can sneak up on you after four weekends of holiday parties in a row. Pay attention to how much you’re drinking and drink water in addition to liquor.
- If you get off track, don’t beat yourself up. Overindulging is almost inevitable during the season. If it happens, don’t waste time feeling bad or worse yet, abandon your entire plan. “If someone realizes they have gotten off track, the most important thing is to realize that and not to overreact or get upset with themselves,” says Marasigan. “They simply need to get back to eating responsibly and exercising.”
- Don’t overcompensate. Skipping meals after a big night can backfire in the long run, he warns. “In most cases, overeating a few times over the holidays usually will not cause major long-term issues in a person’s health as long as they do not make it their normal behavior, but overcompensating for a brief lapse in judgment by restricting food or over exercising may cause health issues as well.”
Be present with your food. Try to concentrate on enjoying the meal, including the texture, taste and smell of each food. Slow down, chew your food and enjoy the feast rather than gobbling your way through each course. Adding a mindful component to your meals can help you be aware of when you’re actually full.
Try some of these strategies this holiday season and see how it goes. Think of it as a science experiment with yourself as the test subject. The worst that can happen is a few pumpkin-pie fueled lapses in judgment, but that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Good luck and happy holidays.
For more information about Grays Harbor Community Hospital, visit www.ghcares.org or call 360) 532-8330.