Unless you are preparing for a bodybuilding competition or following medical advice, it’s OK to enjoy food and eating during the holidays. Sticking to the plan 80-90% of the time is more feasible than expecting 100% adherence. For most of us, it’s also stressful to strive for 100% adherence to a meal plan or way of eating.

For many folks in America, late November and December social activities revolve around food. Appliance vendors like Lowes and Sears call this period of time “cooking season” and direct marketing towards eating. With family get-togethers, holiday   parties, and “friends” at work bringing in the sweets they don’t want their family to eat, we generally consume greater calories at this time of year.

Unfortunately, with temperatures dropping, people tend to stay inside more which means less outdoor activity. So we tend to consume more food and expend less energy. In more technical terms: the balance of Calories In vs. Calories Out shifts towards a net caloric increase. But this is OK – humans, like animals, have been stocking up on calories in the fall for the lean times of winter for centuries – we should just acknowledge this and plan accordingly. (Interesting how our traditions all have their roots somewhere…)

So here are some suggestions to consider for this week and the holiday   season:

1) Enjoy time with friends and family. That doesn’t mean you need to completely slide off the rails from your meal plan, but social interaction is probably more important than avoiding a few slices of pizza. Spend time talking and enjoy the time with people too (see #8 below).

2) Focus a little more on your meals, sleep, and physical activity when you aren’t traveling, hosting family, or partying with friends during the holidays. You have more control of your activities during these times. Use it wisely to balance out the period when you lose control of your time. If you anticipate eating a lot of mashed potatoes, maybe avoid having fries or tortilla chips at the restaurant earlier in the week.

3) It’s perfectly fine to eat some dessert, but do you need both those pieces of pumpkin pie? Yes? Yes! OK. I agree. But maybe not three! Seriously though, trying one of each type of Christmas   Cookie is very different than sitting down in front of the TV with a plate of them (see #9 below).

4) Eat more vegetables. When hitting the serving line, load up on vegetables first. And then meat. Finally, whatever remaining space is available limits the amount of starches and carbohydrates. If you are cooking and hosting the meal, organize the serving line this way: vegetables –> meat –> carbohydrates.

5) Take a walk. Taking a short walk after a big meal is a great way to digest food. If you can’t go to the gym for a work-out on a holiday   there are plenty of ways to get exercise at home. Incorporating a long walk into your holiday   traditions is great. I take a long hike the day after Thanksgiving to enjoy time away, get some fresh air, and workout. The weather this weekend looks to be AMAZING! Get outside!

6) Fasting. For those of you who participated in our last challenge based around Intermittent Fasting, you’ve experienced the power of this technique to not only decrease caloric in-take, but also to control cravings and improve mental function. I wouldn’t suggest fasting on the day of a big meal – a small breakfast keeps your stomach working and avoids post-fasting binging – but planning ahead to incorporate some fasting into your week is helpful when you will be consuming more food on the holiday  .

7) Hydrate. Water is important for your body to function and digest food. Water can also quell feelings of hunger because the brain doesn’t differentiate between food and water in the stomach. The stomach is just telling the brain that something is there and the brain ceases the messages of hunger. If your big meal is a late lunch/early dinner, drinking water at the time you normally eat may help control cravings for snacks. Definitely drinking water during a big meal is important to aid digestion.

8)Eat intuitively. If you are feeling full, stop eating. The challenge with this is that the messaging from the stomach to the brain is delayed by about 15 minutes. Your body wants to make sure you get enough food and then some. Eating slower (see #10 below) can help. During the holidays when desserts are special (as opposed to the rest of year when we try to avoid dessert), saving room for dessert is probably OK. At those other times of the year, which aren’t special occasions, dessert isn’t as important. So saving room for dessert then isn’t recommended – especially when your meals are already on point. But during the holiday season a lot of foods served during a meal aren’t much different than a dessert (marshmallows on sweet potatoes anyone?). So avoiding those foods by saving room for a little bit of dessert that you are going to eat anyway is OK.

9) Avoid eating in front of the TV. It’s easy to do – especially with great football games! If the big game is important to your family, maybe scheduling the time of your family’s feast around the football game would avoid a conflict. Eating in front of the TV distracts your brain and disrupts the signals of fullness from your stomach.

10) Eat slowly. Fast eaters have trouble controlling quantities. Eat slower, enjoy the food. Make conversation with your table-mates. Avoid rushing to chow down on your plate. It’s not a race to see who can eat the most (which growing up is what my cousins and I often tried to do!).

11) Even if you don’t make any special considerations, modify your routine, pay attention to your food intake, at least plan to get back after next week. Falling off the wagon isn’t as important as getting back on. Just don’t make a weekly habit of it!

Happy Holidays and see you at BCI!