November is the time of the year when we begin gathering together for LARGE family meals. It is also National Diabetes Awareness Month!
For many years, I worked with patients who have diabetes. I would counsel on their medications and how to make big and small changes to the way they eat. The advice that I gave my patients helped me be more aware of the food choices that I make for myself and my family. Between the holiday foods, vacations, and special events, it is the most challenging time of the year to stay on track.
My top 10 tips for healthier holidays, inspired by National Diabetes Awareness Month:
1. Eat smaller portions.
The holidays are the toughest times to keep your portions controlled. Think of those kiddie plates with the small three sections. That is about the portion sizes you should be aiming for during a meal. One half of the plate should be vegetables, one-fourth of the plate should be a protein or lean meat (turkey, chicken), and the last fourth of the plate can be a starch (rice, noodles). This is called the plate method. However, if you want to try all of the yummy goodies at the holiday events, give yourself a SMALL sample of each. That will help keep those portions under some sort of control!
2. Do not skip meals.
I love this one! Truthfully though, some people skip breakfast AND lunch just so they can eat a HUGE holiday dinner. This is one of the worst things you can do to your body. When you go too long without eating, your body thinks it’s starving. So, it will hold onto fats and store them throughout the body. This causes weight gain. Your body uses these fat stores as energy when you’re not eating for long periods of time. It’s a vicious cycle and is tough to break once it starts. So, stay away from skipping meals during the holidays and EVERY DAY!
3. Don’t eat seconds and thirds…right away.
Eating smaller portions more often throughout the day is better for your body to regulate sugars and fats. So, save the seconds and thirds for 2 to 3 hours later. Eating every 2 to 3 hours during the day can help your body store its energy reserves properly and not as extra fat.
4. Graze on food.
Grazing is actually good!…if you do it SLOWLY. Again, small, frequent meals are the best for your body. Blood sugar stays more level, your body uses its energy properly, and it doesn’t feel the need to store fat because it doesn’t feel like it’s starving.
5. Choose high fiber foods when possible.
High fiber foods help to slow the absorption of foods in the intestines, which levels out blood sugar and keeps us feeling fuller. Foods containing fiber include brown rice, wheat pasta, wheat breads, fruits, and vegetables. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber…but don’t add too much to them (butter, brown sugar, etc), because then they become less healthy.
6. Don’t forget the protein.
Good thing we have turkey for holiday dinners! Protein is a great source of energy and helps to level out blood sugars so that they don’t spike. A big rule of thumb for healthy meals and snacks is to always include a source of protein. Proteins help you feel fuller for longer. Some examples of healthier proteins are lean meats (turkey, chicken), fish, nuts/peanut butter, cheeses, tofu, and yogurts.
7. The fresher the better.
Foods less processed and with less added to them (butter, salt), are healthier for you. A good rule of thumb to help ensure you have more fresh food in your home is to shop the perimeter (outer parts) of your grocery store. This is where you will find fresher and less processed foods, like fruits and vegetables. The middle aisles generally have the more processed and unhealthy options.
8. Limit the sugary drinks. Maintain your water intake.
The holidays are filled with yummy drink options. I’m sure you will be trying a few of them! But remember to maintain or even increase your water intake. Water is an essential part of life and is wonderful for your health. Keep it up during the holiday season and you will feel better and healthier!
9. If you go overboard on food, don’t beat yourself up!
Let’s say you follow every health tip above…then one day, you binge during a holiday party. Many times, after we “break” our good eating habits, we feel they are permanently broken and ruined. Don’t give up! Jump right back on to healthier eating and consider it a small bump in the road. There are very few people on this earth that eat perfectly all the time, so give yourself a break here and there. BUT remember to jump right back into your healthy habits.
10. Enjoy the company more than the food.
As Americans, so much of what we do and celebrate is centered around food and eating. When the holidays come, that is magnified. Instead of focusing on the holiday eating, shift your focus to the time spent with family and friends. Yes, you will eat differently during the holidays, but you don’t have to go hog wild. Holidays are so much more about spending time with your loved ones than gorging on foods.
Exercise is important, too!
Many people find that when they exercise, they are more likely to choose healthier foods. There is no need to wait until the new year or wait for the holidays to be over to find time for physical activity. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends 150 minutes per week of exercise without going more than 2 days off. Anything that is good enough to be a resolution in January is good enough to begin today!
And if you do have diabetes, continue to check your blood sugar regularly. Do not skip your medicine or your doctor’s appointments. When you see your doctor during the holidays, be honest! He or she can help you more if you tell them the truth about what you’ve been eating and how you’ve been taking your medicine. I’ve seen plenty of patients with diabetes succeed at staying on track and eating healthy during the holidays. You can, too!
So, enjoy the wonderful holiday season! But instead of focusing on eating, eating, eating…focus on family and spending time together. THAT is the true magic of the holidays.