Finding a healthy nutritional balance this holiday season

FEATURE – The holidays are upon us, and so are pumpkin pies, Christmas cookies and the traditional New Year’s smorgasbord. The coming weeks are bound to bring many opportunities for yummy treats. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as long as you are able to keep a balance between indulgence and health.

Here are a few tips to help you find that balance:

  • Remember that foods high in fat, sugar and salt can be addicting.

Food manufacturers use this to their benefit. Our idea of what food should taste like is completely skewed. It is hard to appreciate the natural flavor of an apple or oatmeal when our meals have been full of addictive ingredients.

An occasional treat will be fine for most, but consuming foods high in fat, sugar and salt on a regular basis will greatly impede our ability to eat and enjoy healthy foods. The holiday season brings too many opportunities for our taste buds to forget what food should taste like.

  • Keep in mind that there are actually only a few holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas (or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah) and New Year’s.

A few days of indulging are not enough to do much damage. It is the vicious cycle of not getting enough exercise and eating unhealthy for weeks or even months during the holidays that causes tiredness, feeling unwell and weight gain.

  • Don’t skip meals.

A surefire way to fall prey to treats at the office, a friend or relative’s house, is to find yourself overly hungry. By eating well-balanced, consistent meals, you stay more levelheaded about food choices. For a balanced meal, make half of your plate vegetables, a quarter complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, potatoes, spaghetti squash, fruit) and a quarter lean protein (beans, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, poultry, eggs).

  • Avoid recreational eating.

While some foods are more calorie-dense than others, no food will make you gain weight unless you eat too much of it. At parties and holiday dinners, people tend to eat (or keep eating) beyond their body’s physical hunger simply because food is there and eating is a “social thing.”

To avoid recreational eating, consciously make one plate of the foods you really want. Eat it slowly and enjoy it. When you’re done, pop a mint or stick of gum in your mouth, get a tall glass of water and sip on it throughout the night. Move away from the food as well.

  • Make traditions with family and friends that have nothing to do with food.

Take a walk, play games or exchange gifts. This time of the year isn’t special because of cookies, pies or snacks. Celebrate what the holidays are really about!

  • Ask yourself what you are really hungry for.

There are many types of hunger; emotional hunger, spiritual hunger, physical hunger. You only need to eat when physically hungry, but often want to eat when you are emotionally or spiritually hungry. The holidays bring busy schedules and stressful situations. Take time for self-care in other areas and avoid eating to ease hungers that aren’t physically based.

  • Indulge!

However, make sure those indulgences are worth it. If you love Grandma’s pumpkin pie and she only makes it once a year, you can have a piece. But pass on the store-bought chips, cookies, dips and crackers you can get any time of year. And remember, telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t can lead to preoccupation and binges with that particular food.

Finding a nutritional balance this holiday season will allow you to enter the new year with beautiful memories and good health. Happy Holidays!

Emily Fonnesbeck
Emily Fonnesbeck

Written by Emily Fonnesbeck for St. George Health & Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Fonnesbeck is a registered dietitian who received her degree at BYU. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and belongs to the Vegetarian, Weight Management and Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. She holds a certificate in adult weight management and is a certified LEAP therapist.

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