With the end of the year comes invitations to holiday parties and the potential to indulge on some not-so-great foods. Tempting as these are, overeating–especially the wrong foods–can not only leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and upset with yourself, it can bring you steps closer to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. The next best party accessory to your sparkly bangles or your festive tie is a healthful-eating action plan.
Aromas may entice, but dark meat turkey with skin, fried onion casseroles, pecan pie, and egg nog are high in fat, calories, and sodium–even canned cranberry sauce carries four times the amount of sugar you should normally have in a day–especially if accompanied by seasonings, sauces, and biscuits. (Not to mention the possible food safety issues at these occasions, when meats and dairy items sit out for hours.) A simple serving of mashed potatoes will run you about 240 calories with 9 grams of fat and over 600 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 25 percent of your daily recommended value. A handful of nuts comes in at 10 grams of fat, and that cozy cup of gingerbread latte will cost you 40 grams of sugar. You don’t have to cut out everything, but keep these numbers in mind before you approach the dining table.
On the days before and after a special event, make a conscious effort to eat nutritiously so that, if you do splurge a bit, you don’t suffer guilt (or stomachaches) later. Have a hearty breakfast the morning of your gathering, or a small snack—like whole grain pretzel sticks and peanut butter—a couple of hours before you head out. On your way to the venue, visualize your plate piled high with colorful and varied foods. At the very least, most functions will have salad fixings, so fill up first on the items that will give you the most nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, then reward yourself with a small portion of something decadent. After all, you are celebrating!
Consider the following:
- Plan ahead. Call and ask the hosts what they’ll be serving the day of their event and ask if you can bring a side dish with you (a three-bean salad, baked kale chips, or carrot sticks and hummus) if there’s going to be nothing but fried foods and salty snacks.
- Choose wisely. If the venue doesn’t allow for outside food, then make smart adjustments. Forgo the bread; select a leaner meat and omit the toppings; replace anything fried with salad. And always—always—eat off a plate.
- Keep moving. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Take a lap around the buffet before every course. Engage in a dance or two. Each little burst of movement will keep your nibbling to a minimum, and your calories in check.
While you are out of your element, you can still be in control when it comes to your nutrition as long as you plan on being mindful before you even walk out the door. With a healthful eating strategy, you can successfully face that smorgasbord of harsh foods on the other side.
[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on June 29, 2014.]
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