The holidays are just around the corner. The fine dinnerware will come out for its annual appearance. The children will argue about whether they’re old enough to sit at the “adult” table.
I can smell it now. Every year, it’s like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory, but without the candy. Instead of a chocolate river, there’s an endless stream of gravy. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream piled high. Cranberry sauce, sweet and sticky. Bacon-wrapped turkey. As delicious as it sounds, you can’t just have one helping.
The holidays are a joyous occasion, but also full of temptation. While studies vary on the amount of weight the average American gains in during this time, they all conclude that it happens.
Because of this annual trend, the American Heart Association (AHA) is kicking off a month-long campaign to encourage people to make healthier choices by designating November as Eat Smart Month.
“We often rationalize poor eating habits over the holidays with the promise of New Year’s resolutions, but half of the weight people gain this time of year tends to stick around at least until summer,” said Jo Ann Carson, PhD., professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and chair of the AHA’s Nutrition Committee.
In essence, starting a lifestyle change and getting into the habit of better choices and portion control should start well before the clock turns midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Just over three years ago, I consciously made a decision to change my lifestyle. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. I never was overweight. I just knew for my personal well-being that it was time.
I didn’t pick up a book on the latest fad diet. I didn’t watch TV doctors who inevitably just spew endorsements for companies that wave money at them. I put on some sneakers, walked out the door and ran into what has become an ever-evolving journey into health and wellness.
Little-by-little and step-by-step. That’s all it takes to integrate changes into your life, and it involves a combination of activity, diet and mindset. All habits start with the realization that a change needs to be made and repeating that habit until it becomes commonplace. Instead of waiting for a new year to make changes, Eat Smart Month could be a reason to kick start healthier eating habits.
The AHA suggests the following food options to cut down on calories this holiday season:
1. Spice it up – A new study found that people who enjoy spicy foods appear to eat less salt and have lower blood pressure.
2. Add color – Bright colors can be found at the supermarket and on the holiday buffet. From red apples to orange pumpkins or green pears, adding just one cup of fruits and vegetables a day is a significant step toward a more vibrant life.
3. Pre-game – It’s easy to overeat or munch on snacks while in social settings. To help resist temptation, eat a healthy snack or meal before heading out. High-fiber foods like avocados are smart options because they keep you full longer.
4. Minimize – Practice moderation, not deprivation. Opt for a small plate, help yourself to a smaller portion or ask for a to-go box in advance and place half your order out of sight in the container.
5. Slow down – It takes time for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full. Slow your pace by setting down your fork between bites, taking frequent drinks of water and pausing to talk with friends and family.
Three years ago, I never thought I would have a goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. However, I started small, choosing 5Ks and eventually half marathons. Then I began to work on nutrition – the hardest part. Little-by-little and step-by-step, my new habits became part of my lifestyle.
But I didn’t do it alone. I found others – coworkers, friends, club members – who were looking to achieve various fitness goals and discussed what worked and what didn’t so that we all could accomplish what we set out to do.
With Eat Smart Month and the impending barrage of office parties and family dinners, let’s make an effort to gain new, healthy habits, not pounds. Start small – one fewer scoop of mashed potatoes or a smaller slice of pie. Make it a discussion at the table, and get into a mindset that could better than any resolution you have to wait a whole year to break again.