Is it really bad to overeat during the holiday season?

Is it really bad to overeat during the holiday season?
For many people, the holiday season is the happiest time of the year. But power shopping, visiting relatives and over-eating can also take its toll on the body. During this time of year, food seems to be everywhere. One explanation for how this got started is that in days of old, meals on a day-to-day basis were fairly simple, some would say even boring. Many people barely had enough food at all, particularly during the long winter season. On special occasions such as religious holidays, marriages and season changes, feasting became a way to celebrate the event and to break the monotony of their meager diets.

Fast forward to today. Grocery stores offer a veritable cornucopia of foods from all over the world. Exotic fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood in even the most landlocked states, and a variety of ethnic foods are available on even the darkest, coldest days of the year. Restaurants are seemingly located on every corner, with more under construction. While hunger continues to be a problem throughout the world, for most of us in this country, food is no longer a luxury.

During the holidays, our more than adequate food options and supply can sometimes expand to near shameful proportions. The obvious problem with this is that we eat more than is necessary, and often the eating choices are not of the highest nutritional value. Here are some strategies to help you enjoy the foods of the season without overdoing it.

Eating tricks

  • Before going to parties or family get-togethers, eat something that will suppress the tendency to overdo it at the table. A piece of fruit, a small carton of yogurt, or some cheese and crackers should do. The worst thing that you can do is to “save up” for a meal. Being famished makes it very difficult to moderate your food consumption.
  • If you can’t eat before you arrive, start with salad or veggies which will help with your portion control later.
  • Fill your plate with lower calorie foods initially such as lean meat, vegetables and fruit. Limit butter and high-fat salad dressings and gravies. Once you have taken the edge off of your hunger, you will be less likely to go back for those high-calorie offerings.
  • Use smaller plates or limit portion size. You may need to politely insist on serving yourself.
  • Stand away from the food table. The closer you are, the more likely you are to nibble.
  • Delay dessert. If you wait a while, your craving for sweets should lessen.

Think before you drink

  • Not only can overindulging in “Christmas Cheer” cause a painful morning after, but it racks up the calories as well. Mixed drinks are especially high in calories, with the liquor alone weighing in at more than 100 calories per shot. Note the caloric content of other common alcoholic beverages: 12 oz beer = 150 calories, 12 oz lite beer = 110 calories, 5 oz wine = 90 calories.
  • Alcohol can also contribute to overeating by making you hungry and impairing your good judgment. Eating before you drink alcohol will help.
  • Consider toasting the occasion with a lower-calorie non-alcoholic drink or sparkling water.
  • Try to limit special holiday drinks such as eggnog and mulled cider which are loaded with calories.

Don’t forget to exercise

  • If you exercise regularly, stick to your exercise routine as much as possible. It will burn calories and you’ll feel better about yourself, even if you occasionally overeat.
  • If you are unable to exercise on one day, add some extra time to your workout the next day. If you are pressed for time, remember that it is better to do a shortened version of your workout rather than skipping it entirely.
  • Integrate exercise into family gatherings. Take an after-dinner stroll together. When visiting neighbors, walk instead of driving.
  • Try taking several walks during the work day. Getting your usual amount of exercise in shorter periods of time throughout the day burns just as many calories and is almost equally beneficial to your health as a longer, single workout.
  • Park in the back of the parking lot and walk to the mall instead of parking as close to the door as you can.
  • Try to take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators whenever possible.
  • Don’t let the weather serve as an excuse for not exercising. Rather than giving up on your activity during inclement weather, seek out an alternative location for exercise such as shopping malls or gyms. With proper clothing, walking outdoors can be enjoyable almost any time of the year.

Focusing on friends, family, and the less fortunate can take the emphasis off of food during this time of the year. Moderating your eating practices and continuing to exercise during the holidays will help you to avoid having to address the results of overeating later as a New Year’s resolution.

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.
Image: ©Shutterstock / Yuganov Konstantin

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