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: Happy Holidays – A Time for Mindful Indulgence versus Mindless Overindulgence

Happy Holidays – A Time for Mindful Indulgence versus Mindless Overindulgence

Strategic Development Director

The holiday season is upon us and that means family, friends, presents, parties, and lots of delicious food. Celebrating with food is culturally engrained in most of us. And here lies one of the great quandaries that comes with the six weeks between Thanksgiving and the new year. We've all worked hard, or at least thought about working hard, or dreamt of working hard, to maintain our diets and keep from gaining those extra pounds. But let's face it--is there anything less fun than worrying about maintaining a diet during this joyous time?

There's a reason why most people's New Years' Resolutions include losing weight. For many of us, the months of November and December represent the season of temptations. But don't let the myth of the unavoidable holiday weight gain dampen your holiday spirit. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine the average person only gains 1 pound over these six weeks compared to almost 1 pound per day when traveling on a cruise. Nonetheless, for many of us, being mindful of healthy eating is still very important and remains a challenge.  

Nutritionist Dhana Blissett urges people to practice " mindful indulgence."  I've compiled a few pieces of advice gleaned from health care experts about how to maintain your healthful eating habits-and your waistline this holiday season: 

  • Moderation is the KEY! Many holiday foods are perfectly healthy options so indulge, but do so in moderation.
  • Don't skip meals! Rather than "saving" room for a big dinner, eat at normal mealtimes and eat normal portions, which will keep your appetite at bay and reduce the desire to overeat when "everything looks so good, I already know I'll want seconds."
  • Be active! Try to sneak in a little more exercise if you're feeling guilty. Not only will the exercise burn the extra calories, you can benefit from the energy boost to finish that last minute holiday shopping. Even 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a day can help; your body doesn't know the difference and the overall effect will be the same. Also, consider exercising just before meals. As part of the cool down process your metabolism will continue to burn calories while you are eating and even afterwards, this process is called the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
  • Socialize, but mindfully! Holiday parties and socialization leads to overconsumption. According to Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, a research study conducted at the same University found that that dining in a group causes the average person to eat 44 percent more calories than they would eat alone. Rolls stated that "Since the number of distractions will most likely be greater, a holiday party can increase the tendency to overeat even more than just going out to dinner with friends." Therefore, try to be mindful of your environment and allow the fellowship to represent the entrée and the food the side dish. 
  • Stay hydrated: NO not "that way, silly"! Drink lots of H2O to stay hydrated and avoid "heavy" drinks. Understand that liquids, like eggnog and alcohol, can provide just as many if not more calories than full sit down meals. Also drinking alcohol inhibits willpower, which you'll desperately need when dinner is served and it's time for seconds.
  • Have a partner: Dieting can be hard under any circumstance and no one wants to suffer alone during the season "o'plenty." As partners, you can reinforce to one another the importance of staying mindful and disciplined.
  • Brush your teeth!  Yes, brush your teeth after a meal, seriously. The feeling of having clean teeth and fresh breath will deter you from grabbing that extra snack on the way out the door to the next gathering or right before bedtime, when all those excess calories can do the most damage.

In the end, regardless of how mindful and well intentioned your holiday eating strategy is, ultimately how much you eat is the important factor. All excess calories are usually converted into unwanted body fat. So sometimes the very best and most productive exercise you can do is to push away from the table and just walk away.

 I wish you the Healthy(ist) Holiday Season!

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
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