From Thanksgiving through the new year, gastronomical temptations abound: rich chocolate towers, nut and fruit confections, eggnog, and rich, creamy indulgent foods and alcoholic beverages to toast family, friends, thanksgiving and a new year, new start.
The result? GI stress! And probably a few extra pounds. Why wait for a new year to bolster your GI health?
It’s a delicate balance, really. You don’t want to throw your self-restraint out the window and gobble up every delicacy—yet you don’t want to be militant and deny yourself every scrumptious morsel, either.
Did you know that there was a study about holiday weight gain? Yes, this 2014 published research acknowledged that “the topic of holiday weight gain has been a frequent subject of the lay [mass] media; however, scientific interest has only been recent.”
The study noted that overall, typical diet during the holiday period between mid-November and right after January 1 was the major contributor to annual excess weight gain. Although the average is 0.5 kg each year, the problem arises after several years and a size or two larger—and on beyond a healthy weight for you.
This holiday season, you don’t have to gain more weight than a couple of pounds. As with everything else, it’s all about striking and maintaining that balance and this can start right now.
Striking the Holiday Eating Balance
If you have your holiday party and get-together calendar filled already, use this as a plan of action. In other words—you know already that there will be calorie-rich, carb-laden foods as well as wine and spirits which won’t make you feel so good.
You may want to drink a glass of water before you go, or even at the event, to provide some support to the body. Scan the tables and buffet and select a small portion or bite-size samples. Weight the plate with the healthiest choices. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to send out the “I’m full” signal, so to help that along, take tiny bites, and chew thoroughly. You will eat less and also reduce stress on your digestive system. This is called “mindful eating,” and one meta-analysis concluded that “evidence to date supports the notion that eating rate affects energy [calorie] intake.”
Here are more tips.
Watch your snacking: Holiday time makes its presence in the company kitchen/gathering rooms, where plates of cookies, etc. show up from partners and vendors (and home bakers). It’s so easy to wander in to get that next cuppa joe … and grab “just one” Christmas tree sugar cookie—and then going back to wash out your mug and grab a candy cane-shaped sugar cookie.
Even if the season is only six weeks, blood sugar levels rise quickly. So, allow yourself such a treat twice a week through the holiday season, as opposed to once or twice a day.
Power up your protein: Holiday meals and goodies tend to be heavy in simple carbs—the kind that spike your blood sugar and can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Concentrating on eating protein will help you slay the carb cravings.
Researchers in one meta-analysis of high-protein, calorie-conscious diets observed “greater weight loss, fat mass loss, and preservation of lean mass after higher-protein energy-restriction diets than after lower-protein energy-restriction diets. Reductions in triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference were also reported.”
Don’t forsake fiber: Similarly, dietary fiber also tends to be cast aside during the holidays. But eating a high amount of it not only remains good for your digestive system, it helps you feel fuller, as does water. A review of studies found that adding fiber to the diet “generally decreases food intake and hence, body weight.”
Make healthier recipe versions: Many holiday faves are loaded with calories but you can reduce that amount (and stave off the pounds) when you cook and bake by learning how to substitute ingredients that are more nutritious and still add appealing flavor and mouthfeel (texture). For example, when baking, substitute sugar with stevia, replace butter (in some recipes) with pumpkin puree or mashed banana, and use a nut milk instead of whole milk. When cooking, remember that spices are flavor—use them liberally and reduce butter. Use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, cream cheese or mayonnaise. You get the picture! Supermarkets are now abundant with healthier ingredient choices—get creative.
Remain in a health-oriented mindset: Again, you can thoroughly enjoy all your holiday social events and still not have to worry about your clothes getting too tight in the new year. Many people tend to just tell themselves they’ll indulge now and pay later (new year’s resolutions). But that frequently fails because the throes of a bitter winter tend to work against healthy, consistent exercising. If you indulge during the holidays, the desire for comfort foods will continue if not grow, making it a David-and-Goliath type battle. So start the modifications and mindfulness now.
Take probiotics…: During holiday season when overindulgence in sugars, carbs and alcoholic beverages tends to occur, your gut flora needs more attention. As far back as 1991, research has shown that high consumption of refined sugar creates gastrointestinal disturbances and even disorders. The authors concluded that the “quantity of refined sugar in the diet can significantly influence gut function and the composition of bowel contents.”
One study published just a couple months ago investigated the links between following the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2005 and associated microbiota in the musical lining of the colon. The team found that the lower the total HEI0-2005 score, the lower the abundance of beneficial flora and increased the number of potentially harmful bacteria.
… prebiotics, too: Now, there would seem to be a conundrum here. If sugars and carbs act like prebiotics, well, then, why not pig out on them instead of taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements? Because such carbs as resistant starches are prebiotics, while that Santa cookie sadly, isn’t.
Here’s an effective description of what a prebiotic “carb” is and isn’t. “To qualify as a prebiotic all of the following properties must be demonstrated: (i) a food ingredient that escapes assimilation in the small intestine; (ii) upon reaching the colon its fermentation by the microbiota flora selectively alters its taxonomic composition and/or activity which (iii) confers demonstrable health benefits for the consumer.”
Therefore, a pint of eggnog doesn’t benefit your health, but a few sips will satisfy that holiday craving without disrupting your flora balance.
This holiday season, it may be quite difficult at times to marshal your willpower to not eat as many treats that will be surrounding you. But doing so will make you feel much better about having to potentially only lose a few pounds after the new year arrives instead of facing the need to drop a whole size or two because of holiday gastronomic merrymaking!