This time of year we all know that Santa is making a list and checking it twice. Little does he know that this strategy he uses to pull off his 24-hour gift delivery without a hitch year after year is actually one that could help him ward off additional weight gain from the thousands of plates of cookies left behind by well-intentioned children. How so? Well, the key is wrapped up in a little 4-letter word known as plan.
Sure, we have all heard the advice around the holiday season to fill our appetizer plate at parties with mostly fruits and veggies, follow each cocktail with a glass of water, or eat a small meal before even heading to that favorite annual party your friends host (you know, the one where they serve those addictive pigs-in-a-blanket that you lost count of last year as you ate one after the other?). Do you know the difference between when these suggestions work and when they don’t? They work when you deliberately plan ahead.
What do I mean by plan ahead?
1. Plan your meals each week including the day that you will be attending a party or other holiday event. Be sure to not only include dinners, but also breakfasts and lunches. Once a week carve out 30 minutes when you can compile recipes and meal ideas. From those ideas write or type out your grocery list. Put your meals and any holiday parties on your calendar, whether it be one that you have hanging in your kitchen or one that you use on your phone.
How does this help you on the day of that party or when your co-worker brings in a plate of homemade sugar cookies? It helps by ensuring that you are always focusing the majority of your food intake on balance instead of unplanned trips through fast food drive-thru restaurants or allowing yourself to continue down the path of eating unhealthy foods after you have grabbed one of those tempting sugar cookies. You always have a plan on your calendar of what your next meal will be which means you can quickly jump back on track to eating sensibly. If you don’t have a plan, you are more likely to tell yourself that it is okay to continue down the “junk food route”.
2. Plan your plate at each meal and even the holiday parties. Make ½ of your plate fruits and/or vegetables, ¼ of your plate lean protein, and the remaining ¼ of your plate a form of whole grains. Add some dairy, and you’ve got a well-rounded meal. Use fats, sweeteners, and alcohol sparingly. A great resource is the following website: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
Again, if you know you have planned to eat well and stick to that plan, you should be able to enjoy those holiday treats without guilt. Also, while you may not find all food groups at that next party you attend, you can try your best to fill your plate using this same plate method.
3. Plan for a good night’s sleep. Research conducted by the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital showed that sleep-deprived individuals consume about 300 more calories a day. To put this in perspective, it takes consuming just 500 extra calories per day to gain 1 pound of weight in just 1 week since 1 pound of body fat is the equivalent of 3500 calories (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories = 1 pound of body fat). So, start a relaxing bedtime routine 1 hour before closing your eyes by dimming lights, turning off the TV, and putting away cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep problems, consult with your physician.
4. Plan for exercise. At the same time you are sitting down to plan your meals for the week, also figure out when and how you will fit in some form of exercise each day. Perhaps one day you see you have several after-work obligations. So on this day you determine the best time to fit in exercise is a walk during your lunch break. Another day it may be better for your schedule to exercise after work. Whatever your schedule dictates, however, be sure to record on your calendar when you will exercise. Make an appointment with yourself each day and keep that appointment each day. If you find it difficult to do this, employ the help of a friend or family member with whom you can exercise so you can hold each other accountable. Are you motivated by competition? Create small goals with your friend to achieve. Or, consider using a pedometer or phone app to push you further and keep you motivated.
5. Plan to enjoy yourself. You’ve done all of this planning. Now how about enjoying yourself? If you are eating balanced meals, getting adequate rest, and engaging in exercise on a routine basis, enjoying a few extra treats isn’t going to break the bank. And, remember the other reasons why you enjoy the holidays other than indulgent treats such as time spent rekindling relationships with friends and family. Even if you overindulge in sausage balls at the office party, remember that everyone is human and is not perfect. You will not make healthy choices 100 percent of the time. Give yourself a break, acknowledge your humanness, and get back to your plan!
Stephanie Martin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been managing diabetes and other health-related research studies since 2000. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Lipscomb University, she completed her dietetic internship through the University of Tennessee – Martin. She is also a former President and a current member of the Nashville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Stephanie is currently completing an internship to become a FertilityCare Practitioner that will compliment her background in research and nutrition, allowing her to provide optimal reproductive health care for women and couples.
Stephanie M. Martin, RD, LDN