Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Eating Survival Tips

I am not a big fan of self-denial at any time, but especially not during the holidays. One of the lovely things about this time of year is the opportunity to enjoy foods that aren't readily available year-round. Often these foods aren't just delicious, they are family traditions that bring back happy childhood memories. Proust had his madeleines; I have my grandmother's Toll House cookies :)

So eat, bubbele! But be a bit sensible about it. Stop at the point of diminishing returns. Don't eat the whole thing if a bite or two is enough to satisfy you. As much as possible, try to serve yourself so you can control your portions more easily. Skip the dishes you don't especially enjoy. I personally don't care for candied yams or that Godawful green bean casserole that's made with canned cream of mushroom soup and Durkee crispy onion bits, I'm indifferent to mashed potatoes with gravy and most stuffings, and if I never have another Brussels sprout again it will be too soon. That's a bunch of calories saved right there!

If you're spending the holidays at someone else's house, offer to bring a dish and make it a healthful one. That way you'll be assured of having something you can fill up on without having to resort to the aforementioned candied yams and other things you'd just as soon not eat. You'll also find it a lot easier to control yourself around the foods you do love if you're not starving.

If you're the host it's even easier because you have complete control over what goes on the table. I usually canvas my guests beforehand to find out whether they've got food sensitivities I need to take into account, or dishes they absolutely must have to feel satisfied. My nieces, for instance, adore Stove Top stuffing. So if they're spending Thanksgiving with me I serve it. I don't eat it myself, but I serve it :) I also spend a lot of time looking through the November and December issues of Cooking Light for recipe ideas. What I like about Cooking Light is that the recipes almost never call for faux-food such as Splenda or margarine. Instead the holiday classics are lightened up via judicious reductions in the amount of sugar and/or fat, usually with no adverse effect on taste.

While I'm on the subject, here's another tip for holiday cooks: use the finest quality ingredients you can afford. If you're not willing to spring for real vanilla extract, make something else because the end result won't be worth the calories. Good ingredients mean good flavor, and good flavor means you'll probably be satisfied with less. Think about it: when was the last time you had a fat-free cheese that was worth bothering with?

While you're negotiating the holiday minefield, try to adhere to your usual diet as closely as you can on non-feast days. That'll do a lot to keep damage to a minimum. After all, the days when you're not sitting down to turkey and all the trimmings still greatly outnumber the days when you are! Unless you have an unusually large family and a ton of social obligations it should still be possible for you more or less to stick to the 90/10 rule during the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Finally, do yourself a favor and do not weigh yourself the morning after a splurge. If you've overdone the carbs and sodium your weight may be up by as much as five pounds due to water retention. But it's just water, and it will be gone in another day or two if you get back on plan and keep hydrated. It's nothing to freak out about, but people always do, and as their trainer I get very tired of having to talk them off the ledge the day after Thanksgiving! So, really, for both our sakes don't even go there!!

In fact, I'm going to be proactive this year. If you make the mistake of weighing yourself tomorrow morning I want you to do 100 kettlebell swings for every pound you think you gained overnight.


Oh, and while you're at it, take a moment to be thankful this is even an issue for you. Worldwide there probably are going to be more people who go to bed hungry tonight than who don't, and not because they're dieting. We live in a culture of ridiculous, absurd, obscene, super-sized, Kentucky-Fried abundance, and while that's not necessarily good for us it's a problem millions of people worldwide would love to have.