Holidays 2017: Eat, drink, and be merry, but not too much

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published December 5, 2017

Key Takeaways

During the holiday season, festivities with friends and family seem to revolve around good cheer, good food, and good spirits—including the alcoholic kind. But with the heady concoction of emotional and physical triggers to “eat, drink, and be merry” that abound during this season, revelers would be advised to avoid overindulging.

Overeating during the holiday is not healthy, and can make you uncomfortable and irritable. Experts at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, TX, caution that the holidays can be hazardous for those watching their waistlines, something we’ve all probably experienced first-hand.

Consider that just one slice of pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream can contain a whopping 46 grams of sugar, which is almost twice the daily recommended sugar intake of 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men.

But before going ahead, dietary experts advise having a game plan that doesn’t include simply deciding to abstain from eating.  

“Denying ourselves food groups never works,” said Shreela Sharma, PhD, RD, associate professor, Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental, UTHealth School of Public Health. “Food is not the enemy–it’s such an important part of who we are and our social lives. It’s portioning that’s the big trick.”

Dr. Sharma, who is also a faculty member in the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the School of Public Health, offered these tips for preparing food as well as for partaking in the gorgeous and plentiful holiday buffets that will likely be set before you:

  1. Never starve yourself or skip a meal in anticipation of a big holiday feast later in the day. According to Dr. Sharma, your body is genetically programmed to pack on weight, and will enter starvation mode, holding on to every calorie. Instead, keep to your usual eating schedule.
  2. Never arrive at a party on an empty stomach. Dr. Sharma says eating a slice of whole-grain toast with almond or peanut butter is a good option to consider.
  3. Include berries as a "side” to dessert because they are naturally filling and sweet, and you won’t be tempted to eat as much dessert.

For those preparing these lovely holiday offerings, Dr. Sharma advised the following to help everyone eat healthier (even if they don’t know it):

  1. For baking, use whole-wheat flour instead of regular flour, or use half regular and half whole wheat flour.
  2. Substitute mashed bananas or applesauce for fat in a recipe.
  3. To cut down on sugar, substitute shredded carrots, zucchini, or beets.
  4. To help with portion control, prepare smaller desserts, like mini-cheesecakes or mini-cupcakes.

Over indulging in alcohol can also be a special problem during the holidays. For some, this is a time of great joy and cheer. For others, the holidays can be a source of negative emotions and/or stress. Excessive drinking can be as problematic as excessive eating. And potentially more dangerous.

Excessive drinking or binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks (women) or five or more drinks (men) during a single occasion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“There are many parties during the holidays and there’s usually a lot of alcohol,” says Elizabeth Epstein, research professor, Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, who works with alcohol-dependent people to recognize triggers that may make it difficult to say no. “And on the flip side, for people who have a limited social network, the holidays can be an extremely lonely and sad time, leading to increased drinking or relapse to drinking alone to cope with bad feelings. For someone who is alcohol dependent, the holidays can be extremely difficult."

Here are some tips to keep from overindulging:

  • Remember to drink responsibly, and always decide on a designated driver beforehand.
  • Consider having a “mocktail” instead.
  • Remember that it is not what you drink, but how much. A 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, and a shot of hard liquor all contain approximately the same amount of alcohol that an average adult can process in 1 hour.
  • Don’t do shots.
  • Stay well hydrated if you do choose to indulge.
  • If you’re the host, give those who choose not to indulge a few non-alcoholic options. Good choices include mulled grape or apple juices, mixed fruit punch, or nonalcoholic eggnog.

Remember that in holiday eating and drinking, as with most other things, moderation is key. Have fun, stay safe, and have a wonderful holiday season, from the editors and staff at MDLinx!

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