This time of year provides us with many opportunities to enjoy special foods and beverages. Perhaps some of these foods are favorites only available during these holidays. Some foods or treats have special memories.
This brings us to this month’s positive resolution theme: Life’s too short to completely deprive yourself of these special foods and events.
But, frequently these desserts, sweets, and treats are loaded with fats and sugars and have low nutrient density. A month of unrestricted indulgence can result in weight gain. It is estimated that the average person gains one to five pounds each holiday season. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but the problem is, most people don’t lose that weight come January. Year after year, this weight gain can lead to overweight and obesity.
So what can people do instead? It's all about balance.
You’ve probably heard the phrase "Life’s too short, so eat dessert first." This sounds like fun and can make a favorite treat extra special. If the food item is something you really adore, go ahead and eat dessert before your meal (occasionally, not every day). Be mindful of what you’re eating and savor every bite.
Moderation is the key. Every food can fit into a healthful diet. Some foods can be eaten more often and others less often.
Dessert and other sweet holiday treats can be tempting, even for those with the best intentions. Here are some ideas and thoughts on enjoying this time of year and moving healthfully into the new year. Plan ahead and be prepared before you're faced with difficult decisions.
- Smaller portions for all. Instead of cutting cakes, pies, and bars into the traditional 12 pieces, go for 24. You get a bite, and the sensation of a sweet treat, but you’re not overstuffed.
- Eat the food twice. Cut the portion in half and eat half at lunch and the remainder at dinner or tomorrow… not only have you enjoyed the treat, but you’ve had it twice.
- Ask yourself, are you eating dessert just because it’s there? Is it worth the calories to you? Would a cup of coffee, a glass of sparkling water, or a bit of fruit be enough instead?
- If you’re the cook and you feel that the holiday won’t be complete without a special dish, think about what you can do to make it healthier. Can ingredients be modified to reduce sugar, fats, or salt… or can you add some fiber by using whole grain ingredients?
- Share with someone. This goes back to smaller portions, but you have the pleasure of enjoying a treat with another person. Share the joy and the calories. If the food brings back a special memory, share that, too.
- Choose healthier options. Look for recipes that give you the concept of your favorite dessert with a few modifications. How about a crustless pie? Cookies with whole grains or extra fruits? Lighten up the pumpkin pie with egg whites and skim milk. Or make pecan pie with egg whites and a crunchy cereal.
- Add more exercise to your routine. Not only will extra activity reduce some holiday stress, it’ll burn more calories. It takes 2 hours and 14 minutes of walking to burn the calories in one cinnamon roll. One large cookie = 34 minutes of walking. Walk or jog two miles to burn the calories in 1/8 of a pecan pie.
- Incorporate fruit as the dessert. The sweetness may satisfy your craving. Doesn’t sound festive or traditional enough? Look for a super new idea or recipe.
- Make your smaller portions look fabulous. Presentation counts. A small brownie or piece of chocolate goes great with strawberries. Serve sliced apples with one peanut butter cookie.
- Don’t bake or cook so much. Instead of two pies, make only one. You won’t feel guilty about it being wasted (or waisted).
- Avoid putting yourself and others into the situation of being tempted and struggling with the decisions to eat or not. Look for non-food related ways to celebrate your time together.
Life’s too short not to have a happy and healthy holiday season with friends and loved ones. Enjoy the blessings.
By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University
For a full review of this year's Positive Resolutions Project, don't miss the post Twelve Months of Positive Resolutions.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.