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5 Holiday Hints for a Happy and Healthy Start to the New Year

Getting through the holidays—the rich meals, the many celebrations, tempting desserts and alcohol, even the mountains of leftovers—can be done with joy, rather than worry about adding on unwelcome weight.

The holiday season can be filled with festivities, joy, cookies, stress, heavy sauces and worst of all, the dreaded extra pounds. While overeating from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is all too common, regrets, tight clothes and finally, arriving at our annual promise to lose weight, doesn’t need to be.

Photo: Jay Wennington @ UnSplash

Want to have a healthy, happy holiday season? Instead of resigning yourself to another year of too much or too little, or worse, turning to a diet that is most likely to cause more frustration than success, we’ll give you a head-start so you can approach the parties, office celebrations, and enticing goodies with a sound game plan.  

Whether your goal is to tame the weight gain, avoid dramatic blood sugar swings, or keep your blood cholesterol from soaring, here’s some help.

EndocrineWeb combed the latest research and spoke with experts in the fields of food, behavior, and lifestyle to bring you five easy pointers to focus on to get you to through the holidays in a good space. Why not start this New Year without the need to resolve to lose those extra holiday pounds!

We can all acknowledge the feeling that diet is a four-letter word, so here are five ways to be true to yourself, support your healthy habits, and still enjoy your holiday season.

Dont Think Diet—Go for Visual Awareness  

“The key is not to think, diet; a diet is something you go on just to go off of,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.  The answer is not to focus on restricting foods since feeling deprived typically leads to more pounds gained than lost.

“The goal of portion control is to realize how much IS on your plate and how much SHOULD be on your plate,” says Dr Young. This method makes meals more manageable for all of your day-to-day health goals. She suggests that you develop, “visual wisdom,” when filling your plate, which should contain 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 wholegrain starch, and 1/4 lean protein.

That’s likely not a problem during most other days but when the parties and dining out hit, fast and furiously, how then can you prevent yourself from just letting go when facing down those holiday meals? 

Start with vegetables—Makethem your best friend, by focusing on lots of colors and filling your plate with the all-important greens. Begin with a vegetable soup. Then, search for a favorite vegetable dish that’s also filling so you can enjoy your plateful without regret. Some easy go-to holiday options are still-crunchy green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts, lemony asparagus, garlicy broccoli, and creative salads that will put add some festive inspiration to your plate.  

And, despite the ongoing war on carbos, there’s still a place for your favorite starch on your holiday plate. If you have a choice, and it works for you, try roasted potatoes over mashed, or be the star by bringing some “dirty” mashed potatoes (made with the potato peels: less work, and some good fiber for a heartier version). These days, you might luck out with a great zoodle (zucchini noodles) dish; or, add more colors by going for purple potatoes mixed with sweet potatoes to fill that ¼ spot on your plate. Other great options include winter squashes, like butternut, spaghetti, and acorn, all of which are great options. 

For your meat, turkey is an easy choice, as is the Italian-style meal that features fish. Given that the protein portion should fill just a ¼ of the plate, that’s about 3-4 ounces, so whatever your preferred protein choice is, is fine. It wouldn’t hurt to turn to plant-proteins like lentils, chickpeas and beans so you can save up more fats to have as dessert.

Give Yourself Flexible Limits

We all work better when we have clear expectations set for ourselves, even more so when those expectations seem achievable. This is particularly true when worrying about our weight, managing diabetes, or being mindful of thyroid issues.

It’s likely that you are very conscious of your dietary limits much of the time, especially if trying to managing type 2 diabetes, or have concerns about heart disease. These parameters may differ from person to person but for most everyone, the holidays can wreak havoc on those usually reasonable expectations, causing you to feel out of control. That’s where having flexible limits comes in.

So you might implement flexible limits, EndocrineWeb spoke with Mark D. Faries, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and health at Austin State University in …… Dr. Faries explains that having cognitive flexibility can prevent us from suspending all good intentions during holidays. For example, at Thanksgiving, you may allow yourself a slice of pie and over that weekend, you might have a scoop of your favorite stuffing with theleftovers. Being Flexible means having pie—and allowing for the limit—one slice, and not going back for seconds, or a cookie too.

“While replacing decadent holiday treats with healthy options such as some fresh berries is always preferable, having diabetes or overweight does not mean you need to deprive yourself of favorite family holiday dishes,” says Sharon Bergquist, MD, Rollins Senior Distinguished Physician, and medical director of the Emory executive health program.

“If there is a dish that fills your home with the smell of the holidays, it’s okay to enjoy a portion at any given meal. However, it helps to limit the amount you have by placing what you plan to eat on your plate as a reminder that that’s all you’ll have at that sitting,” Dr. Bergquist says. “And, unless the store-bought cookies and cakes on the table are your very favorite, skip them during the holidays since they are available year-round."

Keep Moving to Stay a Good Pace for the Holidays

“Even though the holidays can be hectic, make sure you plan some physical activity into your schedule, or just stick to your usual workout schedule, so it doesn't get squeezed out during your holiday time. After all, exercise is important for so many reasons including stress relief,” says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN. Being physically active is especially necessary—during times when you’re thrown off your usual routine, and faced with greater tension, lots of sugar and high fat—given its positive effect on your metabolism (in countering those added calories).

According to a statement from the American Diabetes Association, exercise is important for maintaining your blood glucose levels, so getting in a walk or better yet some interval training, beforehand consuming those extra calories can help to regulate your hormones and insulin response to holiday meals.

Joyful Eating Means You Can Allow Yourself to Enjoy It

Mindful has become a bit of a buzzword these days. Yet, eating joyfully during the holidays should reflect the pleasure surrounding the holidays and seeing family and friend. So how might you put mindful eating into practice? “Make a plate of food, sit down, and enjoy. This helps you recognize when you are full and helps you avoid mindless eat the rest of the evening,” says Kathleen Zelman.

Dr. Faries says: While eating mindfully may be easier for some more than others, achieving this attitude begins with a commitment to be present. Infollowing through, full your plate following the ½, ¼, ¼ plan. Sit down at the table and enjoy each food filling the plate, and with every bite, focus on the flavors, textures, and aromas.

Joyful eating is missed when bites are stolen out of the serving dishes, or from the refrigerator. Dr. Berqguist says that approaching meals mindfully, “also involves paying attention to your body signals so that when you are full you recognize eating out of need (ie, hunger versus craving or convenience)  rather than because it’s there. By applying mindful eating, it can help stop you from grabbing an office snack, and help improve your relationship with food.” 

Joy deserves a place at your table. By changing your relationship with food to one of appreciation rather than deprivation, you will be nurturing a health approach to eating, particularly during the more challenging times, such as the holidays but ought to extend to every eating moment.

Keep the Water Flowing 

As is often the case, the holiday season often means parties and those parties likely means the alcohol is flowing. Not only are the calories from alcohol digested more like fat, consuming alcohol can limit your inhibitions, quieting signals from your frontal lobe that regulate hunger and satiety, making it harder for you to recognize fullness cues, Dr. Faries says. The more alcohol you drink, the more calories you are likely to consume.

Falling back on flexible limits, you might decide which would make your happiest: a slice of pie, a second helping of stuffing, or a glass of wine? But having all three on the same day or in the same meal is a sure way to renege on your own set expectations, Dr. Berqguist says.

More so, it’s always a good idea to avoid drinking your calories. “Filling your glass with sparkling water rather than sugar-sweetened drinks such as cider and eggnog are better options. Why not meet your thirst with water (flat or fizzy) and treat holiday drinks like a dessert,” she adds.

Embarking On a New, New Year: CHEERS!

The holidays mean many different things to each of but, but for everyone, the end of the year should be a time to practice kindness, especially towards yourself. Show yourself some kindness by enjoying foods that make you feel good, and savor every bites as well as the happy moments. Remember that implementing new habits require practice, not perfection. You may have to push the reset button, but that’s a kind and mindful act; part of the process.

In this way, you will begin the new year with a healthier outlook on food, and celebrations. You won’t have to focus on weight loss, and the holidays will no longer mean overdoing, just doing better.

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