Christmas Season Eating Guide: A Pre-New Year’s Resolution

By: Cassidy Hall
Johnston & Wilson County Cooperative Extension
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, we all struggle with eating well and maintaining our weight. Last week, my director walked in as I was eating a salad with grilled chicken for lunch. He questioned why I was eating such a “healthy” lunch during the holiday season. I explained that over the past week and a half, I have completely fallen off the wagon and had one dessert each day. He chuckled and said, “that isn’t too bad- it’s the holidays!.” Although my portions have been pretty small, eating dessert every day is completely out of my norm. I haven’t beaten myself up too bad over this- and you shouldn’t either. It is important to think about balance.

If you are a part of the “Eat Smart Move More” program typically offered through employers, insurance companies, or health initiatives, you are familiar with the slogan “Maintain, Don’t Gain.” Rather than encouraging folks to lose weight this time of year, we encourage everyone to maintain their weight. Focusing on weight maintenance removes the pressure and possibility of failure that weight loss can imply. After all, we can all agree that this is certainly not the time of year when weight loss is typically successful.

Weight maintenance allows you to indulge in the foods you love, participate in family gatherings, and attend various parties and celebrations while also getting a jump start on healthy eating. When you focus on maintaining your weight, you are encouraged to think about balancing your food choices. Instead of restricting yourself from dessert, have a small portion and get more physical activity, make water your beverage of choice, and eat more vegetables. Consider the rest of the month as a practice run for your New Year’s Resolution.

Using this time as a practice run for your healthy eating New Year’s Resolution can help you do a better job reaching your goals in 2020. If weight loss in 2020 is your goal, maintaining your weight through 2019 helps you to have less to lose. Finding a balance between healthy eating and still enjoying Christmas season treats allows you to use this time to think about healthier foods and find recipes you enjoy. Weight maintenance removes the pressure of failure that can ultimately lead to giving up on 2020 goals.

“Healthy-ish” is always better than not healthy at all. If you eat a healthy breakfast, a healthy snack, but then fall off the wagon at lunch, don’t let that stop you from finishing the day healthy. We all mess up, we all indulge from time to time, don’t let those unhealthy choices ruin your whole day or stop you from continuing to progress to your goals.

Even when your food choices aren’t the healthiest, be sure to practice portion control. One portion of cooked meat is 3-4 ounces, which is typically the size of the palm of your hand. One serving of vegetables is the equivalent of one cup or about the size of your fist. This is the same measurement for fruits. Eating a whole apple, orange, or other fruit is also considered one cup or one serving. Grains are a little more tricky. One serving of grains could be one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, oatmeal, or pasta. It is important to choose whole grains whenever possible such as 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, or oats.

Whole grains provide you with fiber to keep you fuller for longer, help manage blood sugar levels, and whole grains give you nutrients and even antioxidants that white grains do not. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that three servings of whole grains per day was associated with decreased abdominal fat.

In addition to portion control, drink primarily water and move more. Drinking water helps you to stay within your sugar and calorie budget each day and keeps you stay hydrated which can lessen the feelings of hunger. Getting more physical activity is especially important in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. If you work an office job, set reminders to walk or stretch each hour. Use printers and restrooms that are farthest away from your desk. Walk to speak to coworkers instead of texting or using a phone. Park farther from the door when you go shopping, and do grocery shopping yourself. Grocery pickup is becoming more popular, but it removes steps and movement you would have gotten had you shopped for yourself.

My final tip for physical activity is to find activities you enjoy. There are numerous workout videos you can view online, recreational activities you can do with the family, and many insurance companies offer major fitness center discounts.

Remember, use the remaining days in December to practice your New Year’s Resolution. Focus on balance, portion control, drinking more water, and moving more. “Maintain, don’t gain” for the remainder of 2019, and let’s start fresh in 2020!