By scott scanlon
We could all go on merrily this time of year if Thanksgiving was the only day we let ourselves go.
But let’s be real. We are about to slide into the season of excess.
The temptations of food, drink and fun – along with greater prospects for stress – can easily weigh us down if we dare proceed without a plan and some perspective.
“The average person eats well over 4,000 calories a day just on Thanksgiving,” said Kelly Hahl, a registered dietitian and supervisor of wellness programs for BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. “But it’s not just, ‘Thanksgiving I’m going to go a little crazy, then I’m going to do it again on Christmas and I’ll do it again on New Year’s.’ It’s so many parties and so many get-togethers.
“Everything is about food, and we think, ‘This is a special occasion, so I’m going to indulge a little today. I don’t ever get to see my friends, so I’m going to have a treat.’ Then you have parties at work.”
On the bright side, the average American packs on only a little over a pound during the six-week holiday period, Hahl said. On the darker side, that pound tends to remain, she said, meaning overindulgence year after year can pack on 10 pounds in a decade, or 20 in two, including for people already overweight because of unhealthy habits year round.
Hahl oversees the Maintain, Don’t Gain weight control program for the regional health insurer this time of year, and she and other local wellness experts shared several tips for the generally good girls and boys out there who run the risk of going bad this time of year.
1. Preparation is key: Holiday schedules can get hectic and prospects grow for eating processed foods. “Packing lunches throughout the holidays is really important,” especially if you’ll be tempted by dinner or appetizers at restaurants later in the day, Hahl said. “If you can, on Sunday plan and prepare extra meals for the week ahead.”
A good cookbook filled with healthy substitution ideas also can work wonders, said Kerrin Nikiel, membership director for the Southtowns Family YMCA in West Seneca. The branch is preparing one now with recipes that recommend Greek yogurt, whole wheat flour and honey instead of heavy cream, white flour and sugar. “Pay attention to what’s going into your dinner or recipe,” Nikiel said.
2. Thanksgiving dinner: This meal alone can easily push past 3,000 calories – 1½ times the recommended daily intake – but it can be enjoyed for much less with planning and portion control. “You don’t want to tell somebody, ‘You can’t have your mom’s stuffing she makes every year or homemade cut-out cookies,’ ” Hahl said. “Indulge, but have a smaller portion. Enjoy in moderation.” One way she handles this during the holidays, and other times of year, is to serve meals on smaller plates, and snacks out of small bowls; “never,” she says, “out of a bag.”
Stick to a white meat serving the size of a deck of cards when it comes to turkey, which is loaded with protein and low in saturated fat. Mash potatoes with the skins on, for more fiber and potassium, and use skim milk in the blend. Scratch the bean casserole, which is loaded with fat, and steam or sauté beans in olive oil and garlic. Make stuffing with whole grain breads, bits of dried fruit, poultry sausage and fresh vegetables including carrots, mushrooms and onions. Roast carrots or squash. Don’t forget the sweet potatoes, a “good” carb, but skip the marshmallow topping.
3. Routine thinking: Come Thursday, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, cut out foods you normally eat. “The roll and butter, is that really that special during a holiday meal?” Hahl asked. Nikiel recommends you make sure to eat three meals a day. “When you’re going to Thanksgiving dinner,” she said, “make sure you eat lunch beforehand, too.”
4. Enjoy the experience: “You spend so much time preparing a special holiday meal and within 15 minutes, people are done. They’ve devoured everything,” Hahl said. “I always tell people, ‘Really savor that, and enjoy your food, especially if these are things you don’t normally allow yourself to eat.’ ” Also, relish that time with friends and family.
5. Drink to your health: Alcohol has almost twice the calories per gram as a carb or protein, and soda and juice become more popular this time of year, sometimes with booze, sometimes without. “You have all these food calories to deal with, and all of a sudden you have 500 calories just from beverages,” Hahl said.
Limit alcohol intake to one or two drinks a day. Too much impairs judgment and can lead to overeating, Hahl said. Water is the healthiest beverage choice, she said, and a glass before dinner or a party can help fill you up enough to say no to needless calories.
6. Desserts: Pecan pie is really popular around the holidays, but one slice can have more than 500 calories and almost 30 grams of fat. “Take a tiny sliver and really enjoy and savor it,” Hahl said, or consider pumpkin pie, a “one-crust pie” that is healthier for you.
7. Work choices: Food tends to show up in offices even at a place with the motto “Healthy changes everything.” Leftover Halloween candy soon will be replaced by Christmas goodies, some of them not so healthy, Hahl said. “It’s hard to say no, and if you do say no, you’ve got the food pushers,” she said, so Hahl will take a different route to the restroom or a meeting to avoid those temptations. Nikiel recommends bringing a small bag of almonds or container of Greek yogurt to work, to blunt less healthy snacking.
8. Avoid discouragement: “Don’t go through the holidays saying, ‘I can’t have this, I can’t have that,’ because then you’re just building yourself up to binge eating,” Hahl said. “If you are at a get-together and all of a sudden you have five cookies, you can say, ‘Oh well, my whole day’s ruined anyway, I might as well throw in the towel and eat whatever I want.’ Instead, just get back on track. Attitude is important.”