Nostalgia and Holiday Eating

The holidays are here! It's time to enjoy those calorie-laden holiday treats and traditional family recipes, yet all the extra holiday activities mean less time for exercise and outdoor fun. Studies show that the average American gains 1 to 2 pounds during the holidays, and often keeps them on afterwards.

Studies also show that nostalgia is good for our mental health. Nostalgic memories connect us to the past and make us feel good about ourselves. When we prepare the same recipes and honor the same family traditions year after year, we feel our lives have value and meaning. We remember loved ones who are no longer with us, and relive happy feelings from earlier in our lives. Holiday traditions also create happy memories for our children.

The secret to a happy, healthy holiday season is to find a balance between our nostalgic longing for past pleasures, and healthy eating habits.

Stop trying to lose weight during the holidays and concentrate on maintaining your current weight until the season is over and you can get back to your regular routine. Enjoying a few of your favorite holiday foods will make you feel more positive about yourself than feeling guilty or struggling to avoid them.

If you overindulge at a holiday party or meal, don't waste energy on regret. Instead, schedule extra physical activity and a salad for lunch the next day.

Don't try to do everything. Select one or two traditional dishes that you enjoy most, and keep the rest of your meals simple and fresh. Stick to one or two cookie recipes instead of ten. Ask each family member to pick one favorite holiday activity. Focus on enjoying each of those activities instead of cramming your schedule with holiday events. Less stress will make happier memories for everyone.

Look for healthy substitutions and cut out extra calories wherever you can. Replace rich sauces with olive oil and seasonings. Bake, roast or broil instead of frying. Use fat-free milk and low-fat cream cheese. Serve fresh steamed vegetables instead of creamed casseroles, and whole grain bread rolls instead of white dinner rolls. Cut out appetizers before the big meal, or offer something light such as fruit with yoghurt dip.

Make healthy choices at the buffet table. Take small portions of rich foods and come back later for more, if you still want it. Fill your plate with salads and vegetables. Take your time eating, enjoy the conversation and wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds.   

Watch out for the extra calories in sweet holiday drinks like eggnog, hot chocolate, and mulled cider. Go for sparkling water or low-calorie punch. Drink plenty of water. Remember that drinking alcohol increases your appetite and loosens your inhibitions.

While delicious holiday dishes take center stage on the dinner table, the real purpose of a holiday get-together is to enjoy spending time with family and friends. Focus on the people rather than the food. Give some personal attention to guests and make them feel important. Create nostalgic memories for the younger members of the family by genuinely enjoying yourself.

And now, it's time to get out the decorations and your mother's recipe cards!

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