6 tips for avoiding the holiday food coma

"We like to dichotomize food into good and bad, but there is no food that you should feel guilty eating. It's all about portion control," says Michelle Cardel. (Credit: iStockphoto)

“On average, most American adults gain two pounds a year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can add up over the years,” says Michelle Cardel, assistant professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, who offers some advice on how to get through the holidays without packing on a few more pounds.

1. Don’t deprive yourself

“We like to dichotomize food into good and bad, but there is no food that you should feel guilty eating. It’s all about portion control,” Cardel says.

“If your mom makes amazing pecan pie, have a slice and then brush your teeth so you’re not tempted to have more. That’s better than not eating at all and watching everyone else enjoy it, because that doesn’t work over the long term.”

2. Beware of emotional triggers

It’s not just the festive mood that can lead to overeating.

“For some people, the holidays can be really stressful. That can influence people to eat in ways they wouldn’t normally eat because they’re stressed out. Being aware of your feelings and why you’re reaching for that second piece of pie can help you stay on track.”

3. Revamp Mom’s favorite recipes

“My family is from Puerto Rico, and we love to do Latin dishes. I substitute nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream: It tastes exactly the same,” Cardel says.

Her other secret weapon? Avocado. She uses it instead of mayonnaise in deviled eggs and even blends it into chocolate mousse. “It’s super tasty and decadent.”  She also makes lasagna with steamed cabbage in place of pasta. “You don’t miss the pasta. I layer it with low-fat cottage cheese, sauce, ground turkey, and sautéed veggies to amp up the nutrition.”

4. Watch the booze

Alcohol not only packs empty calories, but also can decrease your inhibitions, leading to overeating.

“There’s this idea that drinking gives you a beer belly, but it’s not necessarily the drinking, it’s the food that comes in association.”

Additionally, people who are dehydrated often mistakenly think they’re hungry, Cardel says. “Have a glass of water. If you still feel hungry in five minutes, then get something to eat.”

5. Take a walk, not a nap

It might seem like a long shot to get your family up and about after a big holiday meal, but building in some activity can make the season healthier and more festive.

“It could be something simple like bocce or a big family walk. It’s about getting outside and moving instead of falling into food coma.”

One thing you shouldn’t do: “Never push your agenda when it comes to healthy behavior—it can easily be seen as shaming. Just get outside with the people who want to go. When everyone sees you guys having fun, they’ll be more likely to go out and have fun too.”

6. It’s one day: Don’t beat yourself up

If you fail, focus on figuring out why instead of berating yourself.

“Take time to think and assess why it happened. Were you stressed? Did you not get enough sleep? Be kind to yourself. Things happen. Life happens. It’s about progress, not perfection.”

Source: University of Florida