Strategies to manage your diet during the holidays

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It is the most wonderful time of the year, or so the song goes. For many of us, it is also a time of family, friends, and food, lots of food.  With that in mind, Luke Durward, York University’s “this is my time” contest winner, is a student in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health and a fitness and nutrition consultant. He has put together some of his favourite tips and an easy to follow plan to help us manage our food intake during the holidays.

Luke Durward
Luke Durward

“The first thing you need to realize is that, the holidays are about enjoying family time and de-stressing from all the hard work that you have put in during the fall term,” says Durward. “Sticking to a super-strict diet and exercise regime is not going do you any good when it comes to enjoying the holiday break. Instead, why not take a deep breath and roll with the temptations. There’s a time honoured mantra ‘Progress not perfection’. It means thinking long term. If there is anything that makes living a healthy lifestyle more successful, it has nothing to do with trying to be perfect all the time and everything to do with getting right back up when you stumble, even if you tripped yourself.

“I’m not saying you should just throw your hands in the air and shout “YOLO!” (You only live once) as you dive head first into your fourth piece of grandma’s pie. Just that if you do accidentally eat ALL of the pieces, you accept what happened and get back to eating better as soon as you can,” he says.

Here are Durward’s best tips:

  • Drink a large glass of water 10 minutes before, and during, each meal. Why? Your stomach will have a hard time distinguishing water from food in terms of fullness. Unfortunately water empties the stomach quickly so keep drinking water during the meal.
  • If there’s a green salad, eat your portion first before you put anything else on your plate. How much? Try to fill a large plate.
  • Eat one to two portions of protein. How big should a portion be? One portion is about the size and thickness of your hand. Calorie for calorie, protein is the most filling compared to carbohydrates and fat.
  • Get your fix of holiday favourites. You don’t want to deprive yourself of the reason you looked forward to dinner; stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. Put enough to get a good taste but don’t make it the focus of the meal.
  • Fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy veggies offer a lot of bulk for few calories. They keep you full for less. Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, eggplant, cumbers, Peppers, Leafy Greens, Zucchini, Carrots are all great choices when considering vegetables.
  • Continue to drink lots of water.
  • Eat slowly. Take 15 to 20 minutes to get through the main course.Take this time to talk to family members and enjoy their company in between bites. Think of it as social time, not feasting time.

Finally, Durward says if you are still truly hungry at this time, remember that even though dessert has a separate compartment in your stomach it would be wise to save room for it. Have dessert. Take your time eating it. Enjoy every bite.

“By this point, even if you feel like you need another notch in your belt, you can be happy with yourself, knowing that you ate healthier than you thought you could on such an occasion” he says. “For that, you should congratulate yourself.”

“Plan to do a workout sometime before the big meal. Your body is more likely to store extra carbohydrates as energy in your muscles than body fat, following a hard workout,” advises Durward.

“Get lots of sleep. Use the break to do just that, take a break. Low sleep has a strong correlation to higher body weight and other negative health consequences,” he says.

“Be consistent. This is the most important tip. If you fall down, get back up. Don’t let one extra doughnut ruin an entire day of healthy eating. It is okay to indulge occasionally, even every day. Just as long as you have your treat and stop there,” says Durward.