Enjoy guilt-free holiday eating

Published: November, 2009

It's nearly the end of November, the traditional kick-off to holiday temptations. And it's a long season — Thanksgiving, family get togethers, office parties, New Year's Eve celebrations, right through to Superbowl Sunday. Many people find healthy eating difficult this time of year. Maybe you've settled into an exercise routine and eaten wisely for months and are worried about undoing all the good you've done. Or maybe you want to simply avoid adding pounds.

Emily Garber, R.D., has identified several "eating styles" and devised holiday eating strategies based on each type. Which type of social eater are you? Look at the statements below and see if you recognize yourself in one:

Eager: All bets are off for you during the holidays. You jump at the excuse to "break your diet" and go all-out, sampling the variety of delicious holiday fare, thinking, "I can indulge...it's a special occasion!"

Not a party person: The idea of holiday get togethers unleashes social anxiety for you. The upside is the food. To help you cope, you might treat yourself and eat a lot to make the event worth your while.

Pleaser: You know how important it is to eat healthfully, and manage to do so when you're on your own. But when faced with social situations it's more important to you to keep relationships running smoothly and to feel part of the group. You don't want to offend anyone by refusing the eggnog, or the offer to take home the leftover pie.

Self-conscious: Parties and holiday gatherings make you feel as if all eyes are watching what and how much you eat. The last thing you want is to look like you're "on a diet" or worse, hear about it. So you eat whatever is served and try to keep up with those around you.

Balanced: If you eat well most of the time and usually pass on getting seconds or dessert, you probably have an easier time enjoying holiday treats. These are special occasions and indulging yourself can't be all that bad for you!

Holiday eating tips:

Eager: Yes, you can live a little and enjoy! These tips for the "Eager" type can help you decide how much is enough, and can also be great add-on approaches for the other social-eater types listed below:

  • Don't pass up special holiday foods, but skip seconds, or choose to eat two of your favorite cookies instead of four. Savor every bite and enjoy things in moderation this season!
  • If there are certain foods that you really love and don't want to miss — like those creamy mashed potatoes or the dessert that's just calling your name — then limit ordinary foods like corn or a dinner roll to save calories where you won't miss them. Keep in mind that this isn't your only chance to eat these favorites. You can have pumpkin pie in March if you want to.
  • Watch out for the treat that keeps on giving. Avoid leftovers — freeze or give them away to help limit overeating. Try to get back into healthy eating patterns the next day and you won't let special events become major set-backs.

Not a party person: Sure, a holiday social gathering is not your thing, but if you decide to attend and don't want to overindulge, try these suggestions:

  • Food might be the one thing at a party that isn't going to stress you and might even make you glad to be there. But you might not feel so happy afterward. Remember that overindulging is a temporary fix and most likely just covers up how you're feeling inside.
  • Consider other solutions for dealing with your social anxiety. Take along your knitting or offer to help your host to give yourself a little distance from the social interactions. You might be pleasantly surprised if you take a risk and join in the festivities!

Pleaser: You don't like to make a scene or offend anyone by turning down food they put time into making, even when you'd rather not eat it. You just don't feel comfortable making your own needs a priority. The good news is that you can do what's right for you while also helping others feel happy.

  • Rather than saying "No thank you," if you don't like to turn down an offer, try saying, "Thanks, that looks delicious, but I'm full." No one will take statements like that the wrong way, and you will still be able to make the healthy choices you want.

Self-conscious: Making healthful eating decisions is tough when you feel like you're under a microscope.

  • Many people will be taking moderate portions, so you probably won't stand out if you eat carefully.
  • It's perfectly acceptable to say "No thank you" or "I'm full" when offered something. Keep in mind that although you might feel as though all eyes are on you, holiday events are pretty hectic, so it's unlikely anyone will notice or remember what you ate or drank. Try it and do the right thing for yourself!

Balanced: You should feel great that your year-long efforts have left you feeling healthier and more positive. Because you're on track with your health goals, it's okay to treat yourself on special occcations. The most important thing is simply to return to your regular routine after the holiday.

No matter what your social eating type, the following ideas can also help you enjoy seasonal treats without regret:

  • Use a small plate if you can and don't stack it high. Leaving space between each item on the plate is a simple and effective way to control portions.
  • Either eat or talk—but don't do both at the same time. It distracts you from really enjoying what you're eating and before you realize it, you've eaten more than you intended.
  • Most of all, enjoy what you do eat! Eat slowly and savor the flavor of each morsel. Remember, you don't need to eat a large amount to enjoy good food while celebrating with family and friends.

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