With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving lurking ahead, it’s not uncommon for folks to feel some anxiety about food, eating and weight. Most people know that what you eat has a powerful effect on your ability to perform your best – at work, at home or in the gym. However, with the holidays around the corner, efforts at good nutrition often seem insurmountable with busy schedules, endless parties and tempting carb-laden goodies everywhere you look.
Too often I hear many health-conscious individuals proclaim that their strategy to maintain control (coincidentally when life feels out of control) is just “tighten up” those food rules. Vowing to steer clear of certain foods or not eat and “save up” for a special meal or event are a couple examples. Unfortunately, this strategy often backfires.
Numerous studies have concluded that being overly hunger is truly the “best spice” for increasing overall intake and cravings for foods higher in sugar, salt and fat. According to a report published in 2008 by the USDA Research Service, long stretches between meals (5 to 6 hours compared to 4 hours) and eating away from home contribute to individuals eating significantly more calories with lower diet quality. In another study, when researchers presented healthy females with high and low calorie food pictures after a brief period of food restriction, MRIs of the reward centers in their brain indicated an increased desire for the more calorically dense foods (Siep, 2009).
To eat well and be well throughout the holidays:
1) Plan to limit the time between meals. Aim for 4 hours between meals, giving yourself permission to eat enough at each meal rather than waiting too long, or conversely, grazing throughout the day. Planning meals that include high quality fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, wholesome carbohydrates and lean sources of protein will provide essential nutrients to keep you satisfied and sustain a healthy immune system during the cold months ahead. Eating mindfully (i.e. slowly, without distractions and savoring your food) while staying aware of your internal cues of hunger and fullness will also help regulate overall energy intake.
2) Choose nutrient-dense snacks. Pair fruits and vegetables with protein-containing foods such as nuts, cheese and yogurt to stay fueled during the most active part of your day and prevent ravenous food binges later on. Seek out seasonal fruits such as apples, pears, and oranges that are full of flavor and vitamin C – an important vitamin and antioxidant to keep you healthy and prevent you from missing important workouts or training.
3) Limit intake of foods prepared away from home. Instead, enjoy more home-cooked meals! One thing that most nutrition experts agree on is this point: everyone needs to be cooking and preparing more wholesome foods at home. To manage busy holiday schedules, plan ahead and seek out healthful, convenient food options when eating away from home. For example, a bowl of butternut squash soup with a hearty salad or sandwich. For grab-and-go, consider trying a couple new recipes that incorporate flavorful, wholesome ingredients. Remember, keep good food in your refrigerator and you will eat good food.
Be Well and Happy Holidays!