“The New Year is always a great time to take a look at our lives, pat ourselves on the back for everything we’ve accomplished, and set our sights on what’s ahead,” said Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “When thinking about improvements we can make to our health, it is important to set measurable and achievable goals that are focused on a lifetime rather than just the next few days or weeks.”
We spoke with four nutritionists about ways to stay healthy during the holidays and jump-start your New Year’s diet resolution.
Focus on a lifestyle change, rather than a quick, less permanent change. “This means avoiding fad diets with ill-fated qualities like promises of a quick fix, little or no physical activity, rigid meal plans, odd amounts of food, or special food combinations,” Rumsey says.
Consumers must also be very aware of the source of the nutrition guidance they seek, according to Rumsey. “Almost anyone can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’ these days,” Rumsey says. “However, taking nutrition advice from an unqualified person can be, at the least, a waste of time and, at the most, dangerous. Registered dietitian nutritionists have the education, training and experience to provide personalized, safe and science-based nutrition guidance you can trust.”
“One of the best methods towards a healthy weight and overall healthful lifestyle is, while setting long-term goals, to focus on the short term,” Rumsey says. Rumsey recommends breaking big goals into smaller, more specific bites. “If you want to lose 10 pounds, plan to lose one pound every two weeks. Or if your goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables, start by adding one piece of fruit to breakfast and one vegetable to dinner. Smaller goals are easier to achieve, and the results add up over time.”
“Stress eating happens to the best of us and most of the time, we aren’t even hungry,” Cederquist says. “We just like having something there to snack on whenever we get stressed. Therefore, keep healthy snacks such as granola, nuts, cheese sticks, and fruit available and on the go with you. By doing this, you can eat snacks throughout the day and keep yourself from starving, you won’t crave bad food, and you won’t binge-eat — but you'll also know that the snacks being consumed are not going to cause weight gain.
“A clean, low-inflammatory diet that keeps your inflammation low and your immune system strong is the first and most important step you can take to help,” says Frank Lipman, M.D.. “Avoid processed foods, sugar, and gluten and get to know what foods are triggering systems of inflammation in your body.”
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Restaurants and holiday buffets can get us in trouble when it comes to guessing the correct portion size. “This is especially important at a buffet, where you may want to try everything,” Cederquist says. “Choose the items you want to try the most, and eat a small portion of each.”
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“Turkey contains high amounts of tryptophan which is to blame for that food coma on Thanksgiving,” Cederquist says. “The amino acid, found in protein-containing foods, helps produce serotonin. In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, found that tryptophan significantly decreased quarrelsome behaviors and increased agreeable behaviors and perceptions of agreeableness in both men and women. Furthermore increasing serotonin levels can enhance socially constructive behaviors and improve social perceptions. So this holiday season, don’t shy away from the holiday white meat staple. This will allow for a more serene and happier holiday time!”
“Alcohol has a lot of calories, as do eggnog, punch, and soft drinks, therefore try to limit these,” Cederquist says. “If you are a soda drinker try to incorporate seltzer and maybe mix it with a little bit of juice. If you must have egg nog try to limit yourself to one and if making it yourself try using non-fat milk.”
“Too little sleep triggers the release of too much cortisol,” Lipman says “This stress hormone actually cues your body to hold on to fat! Too little sleep makes us more hungry and also triggers cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, and caffeine.” Losing weight can start with getting enough sleep.
“Cooking in advance can help with reducing stress and better eating,” Cederquist says. “Once or twice a week, cook food in bulk. Select one day a week normally a Sunday works best and set aside one to two hours to cook a few different types of meals then put them in storage containers to keep in the fridge, this will save you a lot of time during the week and money too. By doing this you’ll reduce any worry about cooking and what to eat for lunch or dinner and will allow you to stay healthier by reducing the chance of being grabbing quick less healthy meal options such as fast-food.”
“If you are someone who loves their holiday pies you are not out of luck, just make smarter choices,” Cederquist says. “Apple pie is probably better than other holiday favorites because it contains fruit and not as much sugar and calories as other rich desserts. Pumpkin pie is also a healthier choice than cookies and cakes. Fruit salad makes a delicious desert too.”
“You’ll enjoy your meals better if you eat slowly,” Cederquist says. “Also you will eat less because your stomach and brain will have time to realize it is 'full'.”
“If part of your holiday tradition involves baking cookies, make them with vegetable oil in place of solid fats or shortening,” Cederquist says. “Add some whole grains or wheat germ, raisins, and nuts. Also, make the cookies mini-size. Use a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon for drop cookies and cut bar cookies into bite-size pieces. You can offer more varieties and you won’t have to bake nearly as many.”
“Green leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce and spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm,” Cederquist says. “A 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders of 2,800 middle-aged and elderly people and found those who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression symptoms than those who took in the least. Therefore try making a hearty wholesome salad filled with these great high in folate veggies for lunch or as an accompanying side. This will not only cause to fill up faster but also aid in keeping you stress-free.”