Holiday Eating And Supplementing
By Steve O'Reilly | Wednesday, February 21, 2007 2:29:51 PM America/New_York
One of the best and most familiar ways for most of us to stay disciplined with our diets throughout the year is to simply stay away from unhealthy foods. Don't go down the junk food aisle at the grocery store, don't visit vending machines at work, don't opt for fast food, threaten your waiter's life if he brings out a dessert menu, normal things like that. So when we are constantly confronted with unhealthy foods in the workplace, at our relatives' for the holidays, neighborhood and work-related holiday parties, being sent home from grandma's with all the leftover pie and cookies, etc. it is much more difficult to remain disciplined. This time of the year is kind of a double-edged sword because on one hand we hate having all this great tasting, horribly unhealthy food around, but we spend all year focused on training hard and paying strict attention to our diets, so once the holidays hit, it's almost as if we've earned the right to eat like "normal people" for a few weeks. Maybe we have earned that right; I guess that is up for debate. However, one thing that is not up for debate is whether or not our physiques can endure the nutritional minefield that accompanies the holidays. If we eat everything in sight and skip working out for three weeks...we simply will not come out ready to face the New Year in good shape. However there is hope...The sound of Jingle Bells and the first sight of Rudolph doesn't mean you have to throw the proverbial workout towel in just yet. With a little diet discipline and food choice discretion you can turn the holiday season into a rejuvenating, energizing and surprisingly healthy few weeks.
First of all, there are several foods that you simply should avoid altogether. You don't have to be on the leading edge of nutritional research to know that sugar and fat-filled desserts are horrible for you. The high glycemic index sugars rapidly raise your blood sugar levels because of how quickly they are absorbed, in turn spiking your insulin levels. When insulin levels are raised, the absorption of all readily available nutrients is heightened. And if you've just scarfed down two pieces of Aunt Carol's homemade peanut butter cup cheesecake, hundreds of grams of fat and sugar are readily available and quickly absorbed. NOT GOOD. Obviously portion control is important when talking about sweets and desserts. However, if at all possible, and because of the massive amounts of calories typically consumed at courses 1, 2 (and sometimes 3), desserts should be avoided altogether. It will definitely take some discipline to turn this stuff down, but it could be made easier by opting for a cup of coffee or espresso instead. This way you're not sitting there empty-handed while the rest of your family throws nutritional caution to the wind and mows down at will. Not to mention the nutritional benefits of coffee with regards to energy levels, fat burning, potential appetite suppression, etc. Go for the Joe!
Another bad habit that seems to run ramped during the holidays is heavy use of butter and margarine. Most non-fitness minded people cook with significantly more butter, margarine, oil, shortening, etc. than we do. That being said, before the food even hits the dinner table it is soaked in grease and dripping in fat. If you don't think it's true, check out the top of Grandma's turkey, what it's sitting in, the mashed potatoes, the bowl of corn, the "candied carrots" and everything else that butter could possibly be applied to. For some reason people load it on! Maybe it's their attempt at covering up a bad recipe.. Who knows, but either way, you could save yourself hundreds of calories and a bunch of saturated fat just by selectively choosing a scoop of potatoes or simply scraping excess spreadable fat off of your serving before you scoop it up. It's that easy.
One other holiday mainstay is white dinner rolls, white crescent rolls, or some form of white bread. By now, it has been driven into your head that highly refined carbohydrates like white bread, etc. are not healthy carbohydrate choices (except immediately following a workout) for several reasons. The highly refined carbohydrates get absorbed very rapidly, similar to the sugars from desserts, and trigger an insulin spike. As mentioned earlier this should be avoided if at all possible. A healthy alternative to these carbohydrate sources would be whole wheat buns, homemade 12-grain bread, or other whole-grain sources of carbohydrates. Whole grains contain higher amounts of fiber and the carbohydrates contained in them are less refined and more complex. This means that they will be absorbed more slowly and trigger a more gradual release of insulin. This will contribute to more consistent blood sugar levels and thus more consistent energy levels.
Despite the long list and wide variety of unhealthy foods around at the holidays, there are also several healthy choices. The healthy choices need to be paid more attention to than ever because not only should they take up their usual space on your dinner plate, they should also take up the plate real estate that would otherwise be filled with desserts and other CRAP! When the turkey comes around to you, don't take one piece and pass it on...take 3-4 big pieces and spread them out a bit on your plate so that it will make taking other foods more difficult. Do the same thing when vegetable dishes come around like broccoli, green beans, corn, and my personal favorite; sweet potatoes. If you fill you plate up with these nutrient-dense selections, you won't have room for the bad stuff, and you'll feel much fuller from the satiating effects of the protein from the turkey and the fiber from the vegetables. During the holidays, good-intentioned people often take small portions on their plates because they know that they will go back for seconds and thirds. It would likely be more effective if they employed a different technique. Go into each meal knowing that you only have one shot. You only get one plateful per meal, period. Granted this may trigger heftier portions but if you force yourself to take the good stuff, and lots of it, one shot at larger portions will likely be better in the long run than multiple, smaller portions. We all know how easy it is to eat one small slice of apple pie here, two sugar cookies there, one bowl of that weird marshmallow whipped stuff here...and all of the sudden...we've had three to four desserts without even knowing it. If you had them all on one plate sitting next to eachother, it's easier to keep track of. Commit to one plateful per meal and you will have won half the battle.
Another technique that could really help you this holiday season and for many years to come is to start a new holiday food tradition. Tell the person in your family who typically hosts the holiday get-together that you'd like to bring one or two dishes. When he or she gives you the okay, they'll probably ask what you plan on bringing and that's when you can break it to them that you want to bring some "healthy options." This assuredly will have a positive influence on them and hopefully the entire meal that your family has. Your dish or dishes could be as simple as some sort of spinach salad to replace one of the other unhealthy side dishes. Otherwise you could be the one to bring the homemade whole grain rolls or the healthy dessert. Be as simple as you want to or get creative...your physique is counting on you!
In addition to the diet choices you make during the holidays, different supplementation can assist in lessening the damage that this time of year takes on your body. Because a shortage of calories is the least of your concerns, supplements like protein powders, glutamine, meal replacement shakes and the like can be put on the back burner. (Unless you are utilizing these supplements to stay full so that avoiding unhealthy foods becomes easier.) More of your focus should be put on supplements like caffeine, green tea, glucomannan, and other metabolism-boosting, appetite suppressing products.