P.S. A few minutes after I published this post I chanced upon an article that mentioned the superficiality of focusing on calories during the holiday season. The writer mentioned focusing on friends and family instead. My point: of course you should focus on friends and family (and Jesus!). Those are the main and most important things. No one’s saying that they aren’t. If you don’t want to hate yourself because you gained a ton of weight over the holidays though – ‘coz I swear I know some people who end up flagellating themselves over a few pounds – then I suggest balancing things out by being more mindful of what you eat too. My latest post isn’t about just focusing on the external. It’s about focusing on both the internal and external. That’s what balance is.
How to Keep the Holiday Calories Off
by Patricia Nadine Mirasol
‘Twas the fortnight before Christmas, when all through the city, all the souls were a-stirring, even the mouse. Okay, so that’s me trying to channel Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but the point is we’re a breath and a sigh away from Christmas, and right now everyone’s doing their best to fulfill all their social obligations on top of their usual schedules.
Inasmuch as parties and reunions are part and parcel of every Yuletide season, unintended consequences such as weight gain may occur as a result of all this merrymaking. How does one deal with that? Christmas isn’t an excuse to be a “seasonal glutton,” as my friend and fellow blogger Joe Cadelina puts it, but finding the balance between having fun without depriving yourself can prove to be tricky at times.
Here are some solutions that will hopefully keep the holiday calories off:
Scenario: You’re at a buffet. The table is positively groaning from the weight of all the holiday treats available.
Solution: Be selective. Indulge in the truly special treats.
An all-too-common scenario. People tend to overeat at the sight of so many treats. Kelli Shallal, MPH RD, a nutrition counseling and communications specialist, suggests saving your indulgences for things you really want or things that are truly special. I agree with her. It is rare for a buffet to have uniformly excellent dishes. Most buffets usually have 1-3 stellar treats; the rest are just between okay to above average. Focus on those stellar treats. Choose to nix or at most have sample sizes of the rest.
Scenario: All the buffet dishes seem uniformly delish, so now you’re trying to figure out which ones are also healthy.
Solution: Strategize. Don’t start with “empty” types of food. Choose what’s fresh and natural.
In the December 2015 issue of Mercury Drugstore’s Enrich Magazine, food consultant, trainer, and columnist Michaella Recto offers a few tips and tricks, including starting with cheese, olives, and red wine during a meal instead of sweets and bread. She explains that cheese is real food and that “real food contributes to your brain naturally, telling your stomach that you are full.” When it comes to dessert, meanwhile, she opts for ice cream instead of fruit salad. Her reason is that most fruit salads come from a can, and that unless you’re sure that the fruit salad is fresh and not from a can, you’re better off with ice cream which is mainly milk, cream, sugar, and eggs.
Scenario: You’re not at a buffet but the food still keeps trickling in anyway.
Solution: Stay away from temptation! Or at least keep it at arm’s length.
So you think you’re safe ‘coz you’re at a spa with your gal pals and this activity isn’t supposed to be a nosh fest, right? Wrong. Count on food to be present in every celebration, especially in the Philippines. Sheena Valencia, an Idea Crib reader and a fellow blogger, sums the concern up thus, “When you’re having fun already, it’s hard to keep track of how much food you’re consuming.”
I must admit that it’s pretty hard to keep track of calories when you’re already having fun. Also, counting calories during social engagements is such a buzzkill. I suggest eating something light before stepping out of the house. That way, you won’t be too tempted to continuously nibble on snacks like nuts (which are really great, by the way, but which can also contribute to weight gain if you’re not careful). Don’t forget to hydrate too. Sometimes what we think are hunger pangs are actually just a sign that we’re dehydrated.
Another thing: keep the food at arm’s length. Don’t station yourself beside the bar chow. It sounds like a simple solution, but sometimes the effort of walking a few meters to grab a bite is enough to kill a momentary craving.
Scenario: You tend to wolf down your food. This becomes especially problematic during the Christmas season.
Solution: This is the perfect time to practice mindful eating.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, given that the last thing people feel like channeling on Christmas is Zen, but hear me out. Christmas is the best time to practice mindful eating because it hits two birds in one stone: you get to savor both the available gastronomic indulgences and the welcome company of your loved ones.
Let’s talk a bit about that first part. In his December 23, 2016 Inquirer column, UP professor Michael Tan says that mindful eating moves the action of partaking a meal into a pleasurable dining experience. “Bingeing smothers the food’s flavors and, in the end, you don’t feel full but stuffed, sometimes with a disastrous sequel as the body rebels, sending you running to the toilet to expel the excess (emphasis mine),” he says. He further adds that mindful eating allows your taste buds to take in the four favors of food (“lasahin” in Filipino) and totally experience the tastiness of it (“langhapin” in Filipino).
As for savoring great company, well.. the Yuletide season is usually the time when people make an effort to reach out and reconnect with contacts they like but don’t usually see often. Christmas parties are a perfect time, therefore, to strengthen bonds over food. Did your college pal just get a flattering haircut? Compliment it. Did your former co-worker just get engaged? Make it a point to congratulate him/her. Mindful eating allows you to share the joys of the people you don’t see often.
Scenario: You’re at a party and the hostess keeps piling food on your plate.
Solution: Say something polite like, “Thank you, but I’m leaving room for dessert!”
On the one hand, you really don’t want to seem impolite by refusing any food that’s offered to you. On the other hand, you really are stuffed. What do you do? David Leonhardt, president of The Happy Guy Marketing Writing Services, offers some good advice. He recommends a few polite replies such as, “Thanks, but I’m leaving room for dessert!” or “Oh, thanks but no thanks. I’m so stuffed I couldn’t eat another bite!” Answers such as these are polite, truthful, and acceptable.
Scenario: Your sked is bursting with social engagements.
Solution: Don’t forget to clock in several hours of sleep still.
Seriously. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will pay the price later on. Among other things, lack of sleep equals a slower metabolism. Michael Breus, PhD, mentions in an April 2013 WebMD article that when you’re sleep-deprived you have more ghrelin (the hormone that tells you when to eat) and less leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating). So aim to sleep well as much as possible.
Scenario: You’re too tired to work out because you’ve been partying all night the previous night.
Solution: Sneak in a quickie workout. Continue your regular chores.
Jerry Everard and Pamela De Martini of the FeelGooder community both agree that it’s important to maintain one’s exercise routine throughout the season. Mr. Everard keeps up his daily walks. Ms. De Martini even adds a bit more exercise to offset the impact of holiday celebrations. Philip Turner, a blogger, writer, and entrepreneur with several sites including Time Money Problem, further mentions that walking an hour each day can burn more than 300 calories. Doing your household chores such as mowing the lawn is also a big help, fitness-wise.
Honestly speaking, even if you’re really pressed for time, you can still sneak in what I call “quickie workouts.” Check out these workouts by The Fitness Marshall and Shaun T. They each don’t take more than 5 minutes. Ideally speaking, you need to move more than 5 minutes a day, but hey, do what works for you. 🙂
Scenario: You have so much food at home, most of which are gifts and giveaways from your different social networks.
Solution: Share the calories.
Christmas is the season of giving, and while food is always a welcome gift, what often happens is that you’re left with an excess of holiday goodies. Since wasting food is not a good option, why not invite a few friends over for merienda (the Filipino term for an afternoon snack) and share the calories instead? Mr. Leonhardt also suggests re-gifting food items that you know will be appreciated by the recipient.
Scenario: You came, you saw… you didn’t conquer.
Solution: Forgive yourself. Tomorrow is another day.
What if – despite all your good intentions – you still succumb to overeating? I absolutely love what Kim Cornelison Brush of the FeelGooder community said in one of her blog posts: “It is so good to give yourself grace when you mess up.” When I read her post, I gasped, “That’s it!” We’re all humans. Even the best of us stumble at times. If you do find yourself stumbling, acknowledge the mistake, aim to learn your lesson, and carry on. As Ms. Brush says, “Living in grace is good.”
What about you? How do you keep the holiday calories off? Happy holidays!!
I’m so very happy that this post garnered so many inputs! This topic clearly is a concern for a lot of people. Thanks very much to all those who shared their thoughts!
By the way, if you want to join a supportive and health-oriented community, check out FeelGooder, a Facebook page created by popular Australian blogger Darren Rowse. It’s described as “a place for people to talk about their goals, challenges and journey to get healthy.”
On the other hand, if you’re a blogger and would like to brainstorm ideas with other bloggers, check out MyBlogU. It’s a community of writers and bloggers who are “eager to exchange their case studies, digital assets, expertise, and knowledge to help each other and get help in return!” You can ask for help with unique angles for the topics you’re writing about in that portal.
Finally, if you have a fitness or wellness site, check out IDEA – a health and fitness association in the US composed of over 250,000 fitness professionals – and be accredited as a blogger.
I’m a member of all of the above. 🙂 See you in one of the community discussions!
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Video from The Fitness Marshall.
Some of the photos and inputs are from Kelli Shallal, David Leonhardt, and Kim Cornelison Brush. Reunion photo from Creative Vix.