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This article was published 19/12/2016 (1862 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Making merry is synonymous with eating and drinking well.
Often too well.
The eggnog, turkey, mashed potatoes, countless sweets and all the other seasonal goodies add up.
"The most common number is about a five-pound weight gain when it’s all said and done," says Gina Sunderland, a dietitian with CancerCare Manitoba, who also has a private practice specializing in heart disease and diabetes.
"And we’re also at the coldest, darkest time of the year so we aren’t getting outside and being as physically active as we should to compensate."
That means the extra heft can be there for the long haul — and the health consequences can be steeper for some people.
"Just trying to keep some sort of normalcy can be challenging, but it’s even more so for people with health issues like diabetes."
That happens to be a lot of Canadians. About 3.5 million have diabetes and about 1.6 million Canadians have heart disease, two conditions where diet is critical to leading a healthy lifestyle.
Many more of us are eating our way to one or both health problems. But we don’t have to forsake noshing on tasty holiday fare. It’s just the opposite.
Still, having a strategy to temper the festive feeding frenzy is advisable. And who better to help with battle of the bulge than registered dietitians with tips to avoid tipping the scale toward the holidays’ unhealthy side?
First rule is there are no rules
Don’t put foods off limits. It makes no sense to deprive yourself of what you love to eat at a time of year when everyone is munching on goodies. Having a good attitude and treating yourself are likely to lead to a more enjoyable experience with more reasonable — often better — outcomes, says Coralee Hill, a registered dietitian with Dial a Dietitian at the Misericordia Health Centre.
"People that are dieting or wanting to watch their weight over the holidays are often those that are restricting, worrying, may be feeling out-of-control or be led into temptation," she says, "while people who are considered competent eaters see those offerings simply as ordinary food and beverages they can choose to enjoy or not."
Indulge but don’t gorge
So you don’t put certain foods off limits, but you should be smart about how you eat them.
Indulge, but reduce the harm at the same time. One way to do that is to curb your appetite before going to a party or a big Christmas dinner. Don’t "save up your calories" to eat more later, Sunderland says.
"When you do starve yourself all day and then over-indulge, your body has gone into a starvation state so when you start to eat a lot, it doesn’t want to burn that energy as quickly or as freely."
In turn, the excess energy gets converted into body fat.
A better strategy is eating like you would any day. Have breakfast, lunch and snacks. This keeps your metabolism primed. More importantly, you’re not going to strap on a feedbag come evening at the dinner table because you’re starved. And have a small snack before big family meals to tone down the hunger pangs.
"A handful of almonds and a mandarin orange are the perfect pre-meal snack," Sunderland says.
Once the feasting has begun, stick to indulging in foods that are special to the season, says dietitian Susan Watson, director of client services at A Little Nutrition, and co-founder of Nutrition Academy in Winnipeg.
"Pass on the Doritos that you can get any time of the year," Watson says.
And do look for foods higher in protein and fibre — beans! —because they "bind together in your stomach and help you feel fuller longer."
More precisely, it’s the quantity of the portions that matter. A good guideline is filling half your plate with salad and veggie dishes. Another quarter should be designated to protein — like the bird — and the remainder to starchy carbohydrates like potatoes.
"Try using smaller plates," Sunderland says. That helps trick your mind into feeling more satisfied. "We love the look of a full plate."
Smaller is also better when it comes to dessert. Dainties are OK — believe it or not — because you can nibble on a couple and get that sweet fix rather than eating a slice of cake or pie with ice cream. Just be conscious about how many cookies or brownies you eat because they’re often piling onto a full stomach, and that will spike your blood glucose, says Watson. And as previously noted: the body will store the extra energy as fat.
The wait and switch
Eating slowly means you will eat less. "So take the time to really socialize when you’re eating," Sunderland says. "That gives your brain time to get the sensation from the gut to know you’re full."
It’s about listening to your body, Hill adds. That can take a while — about 20 minutes — after the first plate of food, so even if you’re still hungry, take a break. Maybe even go for a walk.
Also limit alcohol, which contains a lot of empty calories. That one four-ounce glass of eggnog contains about 300 calories, so a couple of those and you’ve already taken in as many calories as a small meal.
Moreover, alcohol stimulates your appetite, Sunderland says.
Do imbibe if you want. But follow up one refreshment with a glass of water or a cup of tea before another round.
Keep it real
Avoid processed foods. That’s good advice to live by year-round. But there’s no reason to bother with them during calorie-dense holidays. Even ultra-rich homemade foods are better (at least they’re made with love, right?).
"There are many recipe makeover ideas and ways to reduce sugar or use oils instead of butter in baking, skim the fat from gravy and such, if one chooses," Hill says. One neat trick, Sunderland suggests, is to mix white kidney beans into the mashed potatoes. "Now you’ve got a slow-digesting carbohydrate added to your potatoes — and nobody notices."
The free pass
If you generally are conscious about what you eat and how much, it’s OK to have a day or two where the rules don’t apply, Sunderland says. "There is the concept of the 80-20 rule where 80 per cent of the time, you’re really minding what you’re eating and then you have one day a week" where you devour what your tummy desires, she says. "People don’t need to live in a food prison and deprive themselves."