Monday, December 20, 2010

eating healthy at Christmas

Healthy eating... is so difficult at Christmas. I want to eat healthily to respect my body, but I also want to enjoy the feasting at this time of year. There are so many tasty things on offer! Here are some of my thoughts about healthy eating in December.

To begin with, I think "all things in moderation" also applies to feasting and fasting. There are some times when it's good to feast and other times when it's good to fast. I won't deny myself the chance to indulge occasionally, as long as it is only occasional. Christmas dinner, for example, is one of three times in the year when I don't think about calories, fat, ingredients, or nutrition. (The other two are Thanksgiving and Easter dinners.) Feasting is a way of marking a special day and Christmas is a day worth celebrating. Jesus' birth means a lot to me, so I think it's a great time to feast!

And, on the other hand, there are also good times for fasting, for both my physical and spiritual health. Eating less than usual is not as bad as some people seem to think. Most of us wealthy Westerners have not felt truly hungry more than a few times. We eat whenever we want. Contrast this with our attitudes towards sleep, another physical need. We are more disciplined with regard to sleep: we don't just lie down every time we feel sleepy and we sleep less than we need at times (perhaps too often, in fact). But how often do we choose to eat less than we need? Our health would be better served, I believe, with a bit less eating at times (and a bit more sleep).

Setting aside the Christmas Day dinner, December is littered with events at which a lot of unhealthy food is available. In a lot of these situations, what we eat is within our control. I have decided that I will make healthy choices in these situations as far as it depends on me. If food is being served on a buffet, I'll aim to graviate towards the vegetable items, avoid the deep fried sausage rolls, and not eat too many desserts. Sometimes the healthiest food choice is just to eat less.

There are some occasions where the food choices don't really depend on me, though. I've decided to be less hard on myself when this happens. There are some social situations where it's too complicated or rude to refuse a dish or explain that I don't want to eat what I'm being offered. In those cases, I'll eat enough of what's on offer to make a meal, enjoy it, and stop stressing about it. Bodies are resilient, and provided I make consistently good choices when I can, my digestive system and energy levels will bounce back the next day.

Most of the time, though, my eating takes place at home. The choices at home are entirely in my control. So I have decided to cook for myself (and family) what I know is healthy food. As a result, the bulk of my food can very easily be healthy and nutritious. Any treats can be "slightly indulgent", as one of my favourite food bloggers puts it. For example, making your own healthier eggnog is a great way to enjoy the Christmas flavours with a bit less calorie load.

I recently read a list of tips for healthy eating at Christmas on the website of Shape magazine. You have probably seen lists similar to this before. But Shape's tips are the best I've seen. For example, you might already know that by starting a meal with soup, you usually end up eating fewer calories over all. But did you know that women studied ate twice as much when in a room with loud background noise? So you can have a more restful and controlled meal by turning off the loud music at dinnertime. What are your tips for healthy eating at Christmas? Please share.


Scrumptious Sally said...

My tip is to live in a country which grinds to a halt at the merest whisper of snow, so that the shops run out of food a week before Christmas, therefore leaving a choice of corn flakes or lentils for your Christmas dinner.
Also, don't buy those tins of wrapped sweets! They are so easy to mindlessly munch through and dip into every time you pass the tin. Much better to make your own biscuits and sweets if you can and serve them, rather than having a 'help yourself' policy.

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

I always blow out at Chrimbo and never regret it... but I have been swimming for 30mins every morning for the past week!

Please Do Not Feed The Animals. said...

This is a timely reminder for me. I lost a lot of weight last Spring and have been at my optimum weight and feeling very happy with myself. The last few weeks I have been gorging on mainly chocolate and Christmas baking with Christmas being the excuse and have put on 2Kg so that my clothes aren't fitting well anymore. I certainly am not going to deprive myself at this time of year but I should try to curtail myself and stop all the mindless picking while I am baking, etc. Thanks.

Hilary said...

A second comment here - I wanted to say how brilliantly your food photography has come along. I am very impressed with these shots.

sarah said...

Sally, I know what you mean about wrapped sweets. When they are in our office I can't stop eating them every time I pass by! They are such a temptation; it's better to just stay away.

Dom, I agree, Christmas dinner is not the time to think about weight control. But it's all the baking before and after that's my problem! Yikes.

Don't Feed, well done on your weight loss! Will power is so hard and keeping weight off is hard too. I am experimenting with baking that contains less sugar to manage Christmas better. What have you been trying?

Hi Hilary, thanks a lot for your comment! It means a lot. The last year has been a great learning curve for me with my bigger camera. What camera do you use? What about gear? Photography has become quite a hobby for me.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm not one to count calories, but I really watch out for processed/packaged foods. I think that the more 'whole' foods we eat, the better off our bodies will be.

(and p.s. Merry Christmas!)

sarah said...

Hi rosemarried, I'm with you regarding processed foods. I avoid them as if life depended on it. When I'm out shopping and want a snack, I buy an apple or a bag of nuts. What are your tricks?

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