It’s that time of year again. When we head over to Aunt Sheryl’s, load up those red plastic plates with horse ovaries (more commonly known as hors d’oeuvres), hunker down on a fireplace hearth and wait for the self-loathing and regret to kick in. Trust me. We’ve all been there. Why did I eat that ninth macaroon? Who poured me this fourth glass of eggnog? How did I get pieces of gingerbread down my bra? Sooner or later though, the holiday feasts reap what they sow and sweatpants suddenly seem like appropriate work options. Enter in New Year’s resolutions.
Well this year, that will not happen. This year will be different. This year I will control myself – I will eat only half the ham, seven turtle cookies and limit myself to three hot toddies. Take that Saint Nick! I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be. I believe the holidays are a time to enjoy the wonderful foods we, and the people we love, churn out. However, enjoyment doesn’t have to equate to perpetual gluttony. And so, to save you from yourself, I present to you…
1. Don’t Go To The Party Hungry
This is the kiss of death. You’ve been running around all day trying to find that Pokémon bean bag chair your eight-year old god son wants, you perform your Mariah-Carey-5-minute-costume-change at the house, grabbed your keys, your significant other and are out the door. Sure enough, as the car pulls out of your driveway you realize that snack bag of Bugles you ate for breakfast and lunch may not have been enough to power you through the day. Suddenly your stomach starts talking like Kimmy Gibler from Full House, you’re light-headed and in need sustenance…fast. Cut to you licking the crumbs off your fourth (stupidly small) appetizer plate as you walk it to the trash can. The presence of others is all that stops you from reaching into the garbage and polishing off that half-eaten piece of fruitcake sitting right there on the top.
I’ve been there. I am a firm believer of never getting overly hungry. Whenever I hit that point of blinding hunger, I end up reaching for foods I will a) regret and b) over-eat. It’s for those reasons I never leave home without snacks. At any given time, my purse/book bag/satchel looks like a go-go-gadget of munchies.
Holiday parties are wonderful. You get to see half-drunk people you sort of like in dim lighting while you all stuff your faces with the hostess’ provisions. This suggested ‘rule’ hardly implies showing up to a party puffer fish full. Just don’t arrive to the front door seeing spots and drooling unconsciously. I find I make wiser food choices when I arrive any place where free food is in abundance free of that malnourished feeling. I will actually select the foods I really want to try and not simply reach for anything containing cheese whiz. Not only that, I won’t suffer the all-too-common conundrum of overzealous food selection. This doesn’t mean you can’t go up for seconds, but arriving semi-full will allow you to be selective and therefore, more aware of how much you’re eating.
2. Be The Change You Wish To See In The World
By this I mean, bring a more healthful dish. If I had a dime for every time I went to a party where the only vegetable served qualified as great Aunt Rebecca’s bloomin’ onion or the olive in my martini, I’d be a less poor woman. This does not mean you have to bring a vegetable tray. I curse those things. I am a dietitian and even I hate eating raw broccoli flowerets. Surely there must be some middle ground. Off the top my head – tomato bruschetta, edamame humus, roasted potato wedges with sun-dried tomato pesto, Caprese on a stick (tomato, basil, mozzarella), kale chips, maple glazed Brussels sprouts. BAM! Vegetables don’t have to be gross. And don’t worry, just because you’re bringing a ‘healthy’ dish doesn’t mean everyone else is going to do the same. You will still get your true holiday fix in at the party, mark my words. You’re dish will just lighten up the spread.
3. Mind What You’re Swilling
God, to talk about calories here is just too boring. It’s also been done a million times. What I can’t stand is when some health nut writer tells me to avoid booze at holiday parties. Has he/she never been to one before? Sometimes a social lubricant is required for survival at these kinds of functions. Your ex-boyfriend is avoiding you like the bubonic plague, your girl friend is crying the bathroom because ‘if one more person asks her when she plans to start having babies, she’s going to adopt a Himalayan whistle kid by March’, and your mom commented that your eye makeup made you look like an extra in an off-Broadway production of the Grinch as you walked out the door.
All I will say is this: booze has calories; it’s not a ‘free food’. As we all learned in D.A.R.E., alcohol also impairs our judgment. Those repulsive deep-fried Oreos you first saw when you walked into the party might suddenly look downright appetizing after four glasses of mulled wine. So easy does it. Plus, the person who has raced to the end of the night by 8pm never goes home or wakes up a winner. I can sadly say this from experience. Lastly, if you plan to drive home, do not drink. It’s a no brainer, but it would feel irresponsible to endorse moderate drinking at holiday parties to those who may go on to be designated drivers. But Kimberly, you told me it was okay! I have only you to blame for my poor decision-making. No! Not on my watch.
4. Back Away From The Food Table
Okay, I’ll admit this one is easier said than done. The act of walking away from mountains of appetizers can at times, require the Jaws of Life. Unless you have the will power of a much stronger man, standing near plates of copious amounts of food is like going to Mexico and never wearing sunscreen. You will burn yourself time and time again. After you’ve had your fill, thrown away your plate and utensils, comes Act II of the night. It opens with the scene titled “Grazing” and concludes with you unbuttoning your pants on the car ride home. Don’t act like you’re better than it because you’re not.
From personal experience, I’ve found that removing myself from the vicinity of all the foods that taunt me to have the greatest effect. After I’ve eaten and I am feeling full, I try to migrate to a different room. However, I do realize the kitchen is often a congregation location. So instead of wandering into the host’s personal office or sitting alone with the cat watching reruns of the Match Game, put those Crescent dogs out of arms reach. At the heart of it, we’re all lazy. Maybe all it takes is the required extra four steps to snatch the last smoked salmon quesadilla to deter you from overindulging.
5. Return to Normalcy
Hypothetically, let’s say you decided to ignore strategies one through four and ate until it hurt. The next day you arise thinking, “Today I will eat less to make up for last night.” Please, please, please don’t do this. Food isn’t about atonement and the holidays shouldn’t be filled with self-induced regret. So what? Last night didn’t go so well. You came home, popped the Pepto and woke up every two hours mumbling “never again”…that’s probably a little dramatic, but you get the idea. Nobody is perfect. So instead of skimping on calories following an epic holiday bender, just get back to normal. Wake up, eat some breakfast and go about your day as normal – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Besides, if you decide you’re going to start a ‘diet’ on December 17th you, my friend, may just be more dumb than a first grader. Don’t even get me started on diets. That’s for another day. There’s nothing quite like intentional self-denial while all those around you indulge in the very thing you’ve sworn off. Say hello to crying in the shower and aggressive journal entries.
Bottom line here: when we decide we’re going to enter into Calorie Deficit Land in an effort to amend for last night’s destruction, nine times our of ten we wind up hitting 3pm in a ravenous state…and the cycle repeats. The biggest favor you can do yourself is to wake up and kick your metabolism in the pants with some breakfast.