Holidays are a wonderful opportunity to see family and friends that you might not otherwise see during the year. But what is a holiday without rich and tantalizing foods? While it is important to enjoy the holiday season and its delicacies, it is essential that you make smart food choices as an athlete. It is very easy to lose focus and suddenly find your weight up and your performance compromised. To arrive into the New Year with only positive memories of the holiday season, here are a few nutrition tips and tricks to guide you:
1. Remember - calories in vs. calories out: Unwanted weight gain is the result of eating beyond your body’s needs. Keep this in mind over the holidays. A great practice is to be sure to exercise on days you know will be full of eating (like Christmas). Begin the day with a great workout to kick-start your metabolism and set the pace for continued healthy choices into the evening.
2. Vegetables are your friend: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, vegetables are a great way to feel full due to the high fiber and water content. At holiday meals, be sure at least 1/3-1/2 of your plate is loaded with vegetables.
3. Decrease your condiments: Instead of immediately covering your foods in condiments, enjoy the taste of the actual food you are eating. You might also use spices such as cinnamon, basil, oregano, or garlic to jazz up your food without the extra saturated fat and calories.
4. Be “choosy” with your choices: The holidays are a great time because it is often your one chance during the year to have Aunt Sue’s famous pumpkin pie, grandma’s stuffing, or cousin Vinnie’s bacon-wrapped scallops. My advice? Eat them! But choose those options over the chocolate chip cookies or the pita chips and hummus you can have any time you want. Be “choosy” – eat what you don’t always get!
5. Be mindful: Once you decide what food(s) you are going to eat during that special holiday meal or event, avoid quickly inhaling your pickings before you even taste them. Find somewhere to sit down and truly ENJOY what you have selected. Don’t be in a hurry to eat – take your time and converse with family or friends as you eat. It is especially important to do this with holiday treat foods. It is no secret that these foods offer little nutritional value; they are simply DELICIOUS. However, these foods should be enjoyed slowly, thoughtfully, and with intention. As you are eating, take note of your hunger and satiety levels – always stop when you are comfortably full or even sooner if your craving is sufficiently satisfied.
6. Eat a sufficient meal before evening holiday outings: If you are heading to an evening holiday party serving only appetizers or desserts, be sure to eat a well-rounded meal before leaving the house. This will provide your body with energy to help you more easily make good eating choices at the event. It is easier to make smart choices when you are not ravenously hungry.
7. Balance your beverages: For those of you who will choose to drink alcohol during the holidays, be aware that calories add up quickly! Limit yourself to 1-2 drinks at a time and alternate with water to keep yourself well-hydrated. Choose light beers and sugar-free or low-calorie sodas and mixers to further decrease calories. Note that non-alcoholic drinks such as egg nog or juice are also loaded with calories, so drink these in small quantities (try ½ cup at a time) and focus on enjoying the taste instead of using them as a thirst quencher.
8. Mingle away from the food table: A great trick to avoid grazing all day or night is to mingle with family or friends away from the food table. Position yourself in a completely separate room or with your back to the food table. This will help you to think less about the food because you can’t see it. It also makes you think twice before getting more food since you have to put in that extra effort to get back to the food table.
9. Make sleep a priority: Studies show that inadequate sleep signals a hormone in your body that increases the drive to eat and makes it more difficult for your brain to gravitate toward healthy options. Help your body by getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night on average.
10. Enjoy what truly matters: Keep in mind that what truly matters during the holidays is not the food, but the time spent with family and friends. By focusing on the enjoyment derived from people and not food, the holidays will be much less stressful for you and making healthy choices will happen naturally.