Tips to help you navigate the holidays
It’s a common story: January 1 rolls around and no amount of coffee will overcome the groggy cloud in our heads. A few too many drinks paired with way too many carbs and not enough sleep leaves us uncomfortable at best as we try to squeeze into the clothes that fit just fine six weeks ago. And so, we resolve to do better:
“I will eat a healthier diet this year!”
“I will lose weight!”
“I will exercise!”
Wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t have to start the year quite so deep in the hole? “But Thanksgiving only comes once a year! I want to enjoy it.”
Then do! But enjoyment now doesn’t have to lead to regret later. With a few tips and tricks, you can savor all your favorites this holiday season without paying the price when it’s over.
Enjoy your vegetables
We’ve all heard that we need to eat more vegetables, but I don’t think that’s really enough. If eating vegetables feels like a chore and not a pleasure, you will never eat more than you feel obligated to. Put a little butter on them, add that extra sprinkle of salt, and don’t feel guilty about it! Why? Because as long as you are eating good, fresh produce, you’re doing great!
People will tell you all about how raw is best, salt and butter are bad, and cooking the wrong way leaches nutrients. But you know what? Vegetables are better than processed foods even when they are prepared with a little something luxurious. Which is better for you: creamed rutabagas with roasted garlic and rosemary or Doritos? This is a no-brainer, even if neither choice includes raw kale.
If you prepare vegetables in a way that you enjoy eating them, then you will eat more of them, and that is good. More vegetables is good. Period.
So go ahead and start planning that Thanksgiving feast. Roasted carrots glazed with maple syrup? Yes, please. Sweet potato medallions topped with caramelized onions? I’ll have a few more of those. Little bundles of green beans wrapped in bacon? Don’t mind if I do.
Drink plenty of water
Nice bottles of wine and holiday cocktails make it easy to go overboard this time of year. And since those bottles are conveniently missing nutrition labels, it’s easy to ignore all the extra calories and carbs we’re consuming.
I am absolutely not going to suggest that you refrain from enjoying a nice beverage with your holiday meal, but as a rule of thumb, try to drink a full glass of water before every refill. This extra hydration not only reduces alcohol intake, but it also helps avoid overeating.
Reduce the sugar
Desserts are supposed to be sweet, but do they have to be so sweet that all other flavors are completely overpowered?
I went to my college reunion a few weeks ago and was pretty excited, not just to see old friends, but to get to eat a lovely catered meal without the sticky hands of my children picking food off my plate. I perused the dessert table and happily landed on a piece of chocolate cake, but my happiness quickly faded to disappointment when I bit into it and couldn’t find even a hint of cocoa flavor over the excessive sweetness.
If you purchase pre-made desserts, you don’t have as many options, but if you happen to make your own, it isn’t difficult to bring out the flavors of fall without going overboard on the sugar. There’s no need to go scouring the internet for new recipes claiming “healthy” desserts. Stick with the ones you know and love, but reduce the sugar by 25 percent. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve done it on everything from cookies to cake. Not only does no one complain, but I usually get more compliments. Just use 3/4 cup of sugar for every 1 cup the recipe calls for. For some recipes, I’ve even gone so far as to reduce it by half, and the result was wonderful. Seriously, most dessert recipes call for a lot more sugar than is actually needed.
Apple pie should taste like apples, and they are sweet already. Chocolate should taste like chocolate, and pumpkin pie should leave lingering notes of cinnamon and spice.
Not only will you find greater enjoyment in the wonderful flavors we look forward to all year long, you’ll reduce your sugar intake significantly. And you didn’t even have to take a smaller piece of the pie.
One thing almost every fad diet has in common is that they designate certain foods as being off-limits. Sure, this can be effective for a while, but rarely will it produce permanent change. Focus on the foods you should be eating, not the ones you shouldn’t. If you are going to a party, go ahead and eat those hors d’oeuvres and sweets, but make sure you are eating a healthy diet during the rest of the day.
Research actually suggests that there may even be benefits to cheating on a diet approximately 10 percent of the time, which is two or three meals per week, but that’s meals, not days. This means you don’t need to worry about Thanksgiving dinner! You don’t even need to worry about leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast the next day. Just don’t jump off the bandwagon for a month and a half.
Imagine how far your New Year’s resolution will take you if you don’t have to begin with all those extra pounds.
Kathryn Arthur blurs the lines between farmer and chef. She is currently working to establish a sustainable farm in central Virginia and loves to write about her research in agriculture and nutrition as well as her daily adventures in the kitchen.