As we kick off the New Year, people tend to become more interested in seeking nutrition advice, whether they are looking to lose a few pounds or just become healthier.
“The holidays are a time that is challenging for a lot of people with their weight and eating healthy,” said Despina Hyde, nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center. This means that January is the month in which we have to recover and get back on track. But, while it may sound impossible, it is not as hard as you think.
“One of the major issues is just being mindful and tuning in to whether we are really enjoying the food or eating because it is front of us,” said Hyde.
Remember, you do not have to eat everything. “I like to tell my patients to pick their indulgences, and when there are a lot of things out there, chose the ones you really love,” said Hyde. This can also help with portion control. “You may really love mashed potatoes but stuffing may not be your favorite, so you can do without that,” said Hyde.
Food preferences are very individualized. “Everyone has different cultural celebrations and things they do with their families, so some strategies can be applied widely and others are more specific,” said Hyde. If each person just takes away one or two tips and follows through with them throughout the year, they will be healthier.
You may have had a few drinks to ring in the New Year, but be sure to tone it down as the month progresses. Doctors stress that alcohol is only okay in moderation.
“One challenge I see a lot of is alcohol, because it adds more calories than people believe it does, and it lowers inhibitions, which leads people to eat more than they were planning on,” said Hyde. Mix things up. “If you have a drink, the next drink could be something like club soda or water to space it out throughout the night.”
Aim for sugar-free mixers. “Stay away from fattening, high-calorie or high-sugar punches and know that wine is also a good option,” said Hyde. It is lower in calories than other drinks, and it is essential that you stay hydrated.
Eating a balanced meal is important. If you are planning to dine at a friend’s house or go to a social gathering, plan your actions in advance.
“You should have protein to stabilize the blood sugar before you attend a party, and that way, you will not feel as hungry,” said Hyde. If you are going to a get-together, bring a healthy dish to share. “If you are hosting, send stuff home with guests,” said Hyde.
Do not let the food take away from the other positive aspects of your event. “Focus on socialization and making time about the family and not the food,” said Hyde.
Find alternatives. “Look for ways to swap calories, so if there is a typical dish that is usually traditionally high in fat or calories, find a way to modify it,” said Hyde. This is almost always doable. “One thing I love is swapping mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes or using apple sauce or a prune puree in baked goods as opposed to butters and oils,” said Hyde.
Greek yogurt is another popular choice. There are ways to reduce fat just by cooking slightly differently. Instead of frying, try baking, broiling, microwaving or boiling. To reduce calories, eat fruits canned in their own juice instead of syrup. To enhance flavor, use vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon.
You can be proactive at a restaurant by asking questions, such as whether the cook is willing to leave gravy or cream sauces off of dishes, accommodate special requests like swapping fries for a salad, and use less oil. The National Institutes of Health suggests choosing foods that are steamed in their own juice, broiled, baked, roasted, poached, or lightly sautéed. Choose a lower-calorie salad dressing, and do not eat the skin on chicken or turkey. Consider the fact that portion sizes have gotten larger over the years, and remember it is okay to bring leftovers home for the next day. You may also want to share your entrée with someone, eat off smaller plates, or skip buffets.
Gaining a few pounds or more is preventable. “It is about behavior change, eating fewer calories than your body needs, skipping that extra cookie, increasing vegetable intake, and filling up on lean protein,” said Hyde.
Increasing physical activity also helps. Get in the habit of staying on a regular eating schedule. It is always nice to eat as a family most days of the week. Always eat before you get hungry and never skip breakfast. Chew slowly and enjoy what you are eating instead of rushing through it.
When you have a game plan in advance, it is easier to follow your own rules and feel good about your diet.
© 2013 Jamie Lober
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