8 Tips to Avoid Holiday Food Stress

November 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When an average slice of pumpkin pie and scoop of vanilla ice cream can contain 46 grams of sugar – nearly twice the recommended daily added sugar intake of 25 grams for women and well above the recommendation of 36 grams for men– the holidays can be hazardous for anyone watching their waistlines.

With so much good food around during the holidays, you need a plan to enjoy without over eating. (EGP photo)

With so much good food around during the holidays, you need a plan to enjoy without over eating. (EGP photo)

Sweets are never more available and tempting than during the holiday season, but with some healthy swaps and strategies, Shreela Sharma, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental at UTHealth School of Public Health, says it’s easy to eat healthier this holiday season.

–When preparing desserts, substitute whole-wheat flour instead of regular flour in a recipe to make it healthier, or use ½ regular and ½ whole-wheat if you want to ease into it.

–Mashed bananas and applesauce make great substitutions for fat in a recipe. Natural sweeteners such as shredded carrots, zucchini or beets can also be incorporated into recipes so you won’t need to use as much sugar.

–Prepare small desserts such as mini-cheesecakes or mini-cupcakes to help with portion control.

–Always have some berries as a side with your dessert – they’re naturally filling and you won’t be as tempted to eat as much dessert.

–Don’t starve yourself or skip a meal in anticipation of a holiday party feast later in the day. Sharma says it’s counterintuitive to how the body works. Your body is genetically programmed to pack on weight and will enter starvation mode. It will hold on to every calorie and you’re going to end up packing on more weight. It’s better to keep to your usual eating schedule – stay away from yo-yo dieting.

Control temptation by switching out large pies and sweets for bite-sized portions. (EGP photo)

Control temptation by switching out large pies and sweets for bite-sized portions. (EGP photo)

–To prevent overeating, make sure you eat something filling before going to a party so you don’t arrive with an empty stomach. Sharma suggests a slice of whole-grain toast with almond or peanut butter.

–If you have a special dietary restriction or a health condition that prohibits you from eating certain foods, let the host of your party know ahead of time. Generally, they will accommodate you because they want you to have a good time. If not, you ate that toast ahead of time, right?

–Holidays can be a stressful time, which can result in eating more food. Instead, try to deal with stress by going for a walk each day or do something that helps manage your stress like yoga or meditation.

The most important thing, Sharma stresses, is to eat what you want in moderation. She advises that if you have a craving, you should fulfill it because the craving only gets worse.

“Denying ourselves food groups never works,” said Sharma, who is also a faculty member in the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the School of Public Health. “Food is not the enemy – it’s such an important part of who we are and our social lives. It’s portioning that’s the big trick.”

If you remember to eat in moderation, then you can enjoy anything from an appetizer to your favorite holiday dessert, guilt-free.

The Medical Minute: Holidays Often a Challenge for People with Eating Disorders

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

With food everywhere you look, difficult relatives and pressure to create perfect memories, the holidays can be a tough time for those who struggle with eating disorders.

People dealing with binge eating or bulimia nervosa may find that the emotional challenges of the season, coupled with extra eating opportunities, can trigger their unhealthy behaviors.

Patients struggling with anorexia nervosa often work to combat perfectionistic tendencies, and the holidays – a time that everyone wants to be perfect but which seldom is – can lead to problems if not handled carefully.

Dr. Martha Levine, director of the partial-hospitalization and intensive-outpatient programs for treatment of eating disorders at Penn State Hershey, says people with eating disorders often find themselves in a double bind.

“People make all this food and say, ‘Eat, eat!’ but then they also make comments about weight and appearances,” she said. “If you really listen to how much we talk about food, you see it can be a challenging time.”

She encourages her patients to seek out a supportive family member ahead of time who can play interference during holiday gatherings when people make comments about filling up plates, weight gained or lost, and the diet they are thinking about trying.

Patients should make a plan to handle unstructured days where the eating never stops or occurs at different times of day. When the festivities and conversation trigger anxiety, Levine’s advice is to breathe, then seek distraction with non-food activities.

“Go for a walk, suggest a game everyone can play, or find something else to do,” she said. “I always tell my patients that emotions are like the weather – if you can just get through them, they pass and the next moment can be very different.”

Family members can help their loved ones who struggle with an eating disorder by providing quiet support. That means not greeting the person with a “You look good!” or “You look healthy!” – both of which are often interpreted to mean “You look fat.”

“It can get overwhelming if too many people are commenting on it,” she said.

Rather than focusing on physical appearance, Levine suggests those wanting to show support use comments such as “You look brighter” or “You look like you have more energy,” which focus on internal qualities.

Guiding conversation to light topics such as books, movies and current events that don’t involve food or appearance can also help.

Families who step up with support during the person’s initial bout with the illness and then back off may also trigger relapses. “The message is almost that they have to stay sick to keep them involved in their lives,” Levine said.

And the focus should always remain on health rather than weight, size or physical appearance. She said, “Look at your body as a tool that you want to make as healthy as possible so that you are able to do more things.”

 

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