How to avoid the dreaded holiday bloat

Research from Cornell University suggests that on average people make 200 decisions about food, per day. These decisions tend to be more challenging around the holidays when our temptations are tested and our stomachs suddenly feel invincible. Want to avoid the holiday bloat? Read on.

First, you need to distinguish if it’s gradual weight gain (the average person apparently gains one to seven pounds over the holidays) or if you actually feel distended, says registered dietitian, Shannon Smith.

“I ask my clients to explain what they mean by bloating and oftentimes people will say ‘by the end of the day I look six months pregnant’ or ‘I don’t fit into my pant size anymore’. This would be a sign of  being bloated versus just feeling full from overindulging on the actual food choices you’ve made through the week,” Smith tells Yahoo Canada.

The Vancouver-based expert explains that it’s also important to know about intolerance and sensitivity to wheat-based foods, which tend to increase bloating, gas and discomfort.

“It’s more about the types of carbohydrates, so the types of sugars and starches found in foods that humans don’t have effective enzymes to break down. Our gastro tract is a semi-permeable barrier and its key role is to break down food particles into small enough sizes that they can be taken in through the walls of the GI tract,” explains Smith.

Conscious food decisions versus non-conscious food decisions 

Smith says we need to be aware of what is influencing us in our food decisions.

“Watching how much of the cookies we eat every time we go into the lunch room and there’s cookies left out” or “standing at the snack table at a party and constantly reaching for something without knowing what you’ve consumed,” are more non-conscious food decisions, she says.

For the conscious food decisions though, the ones we are actively aware of and making daily, Smith argues that aside from allergies there really isn’t one food that a person should never eat. There are less healthful options that should be considered treats or “something out of the ordinary that gives great pleasure,” as well. Learning how to offset indulgences can help one make more conscious food decisions.

“I’m all about the 80/20 (80 per cent clean eating; 20 per cent eating “treats”) rule for all conscious food decisions and also planning ahead for those 20 per cent indulgences so it doesn’t creep up to 50 per cent,” explains Smith.

The difficulty during the holiday is that we end making more of these unconscious food decisions because we’re relaxing or distracted or splurging — just not caring to pay attention to our food intake.

How to plan for the holidays and when to start

According to Smith, we start gaining holiday weight at the beginning of November so those with “high estimates of seven to 10 pounds gained through the holidays actually start gaining at the beginning of November and last until the first week in January. You’re looking at a good two months that you’ll start to notice that gradual weight increase.”

As the holiday season approaches, start thinking about the leaner choices that can be made. Smith also suggests keeping a food diary to stay accountable.

“Pen and paper, notes on a phone, or an app like MyFitnessPal, which is calorie-focused and uses photos, are great options. Look forward to your social calendar and find out how many obligations you have,” says Smith. “How many instances are there where you may indulge? Plan your other food around it. Set intentions for what you know you struggle with the most.”

Recipes to help with digestion and avoiding the holiday bulge

Breakfast: At breakfast there is a big opportunity to fill up on soluble fibre, which can be found in chia seeds, oats and ground flax. Smith suggests a chia pudding with a half cup or full cup of either blueberries or raspberries.

“Blueberries and raspberries seem to be well tolerated for most people whether or not they have digestive discomfort, IBS symptoms or not. Also, you’re getting beautiful antioxidants and nutrients in so if you have any kind of inflammation through your gut and it’s actually leading to physical bloating, this can help since you’re getting soluble fibre plus antioxidants to support healthy enterocytes of the GI tract,” explains Smith.

Lunch: Smith says a smart choice is a poke bowl, but hold the rice and instead add more leafy greens. Another option is minestrone soup with millet or quinoa in place of the pasta. If you’re really feeling hungry at lunch opt for a big salad containing salmon, tofu, tempeh or chicken.

Dinner: Go for similar choices as lunchtime (especially the big salad option) and Smith advises to try and cook more at home. Balance the plate with 50 per cent non-starchy vegetables and a 1/3 plate of lean proteins with an option to add a 1/4 plate of whole fibre carbohydrates. If you’re headed out, stick to less carbs and ask for sauce on the side.

Drinks: In addition to options like mineral water and Kombucha, Smith says mixing club soda with a 1/4 cup of juice, bucha and drinking vinegar can help with gut health and digestion.

How to handle holiday parties 

Use the holidays as an opportunity to take non-alcoholic drinks to a party. Or if you’re hosting why not try making some mocktails for guests? Smith suggests mixing a teaspoon of blackberry jam with mineral water and muddled basil.

Small changes can make for healthier options when hosting, too, like swapping spinach dip with Greek yogurt, having leaner choices available in addition to indulgences, and if you want to, cooking at home so you can control how much sugar is added, what healthy fats are included, and so on.

And use plates to your advantage.

“You can think OK I had one plate, three plates versus just grazing constantly where you don’t have any checkpoints of how much you’ve eaten over time. Leave yourself a smaller space on the plate for richer things or carbs,” says Smith.

Beware of sodium

“Some people might find they feel bloating through body weight, too, so if you wake up and notice your face looks a little bit puffy, that can be excess sodium retention. If we consume more salt than we’re used to our body is going to draw water into that as well,” notes Smith.

What about fitness?

During the winter months, which are also the holiday months, many tend to hibernate and may fall out of their regular workout routine. Fitness trainers and owners of Kondi Fitness, Lacey and Lisa Kondi, say consistency with fitness and portions with food are what matter during the holiday season.

“Book your workouts in advance. Choose morning classes, that way you wake up and get it done, otherwise as the day goes on you’re more prone to skip a workout,” says Lacey Kondi.

“We love taking apple cider vinegar with a squeeze of lemon in the morning after a big night of indulgence, followed by green juice, clean protein and fresh veggies. Ensure to incorporate these foods between Christmas parties and outings,” adds Lisa.

If the sisters are going to indulge a tad some snacks they have over the holidays include root veggie chips, kale chips baked in the oven with coconut oil and nutritional yeast, and Herbland Protein Gummies. They also advise switching up any traditional holiday cookie recipe with almond flour (instead of flour) and swap the sugar for coconut sugar, raw honey or a natural sweetener like stevia.

If it’s eggnog you’re after, go for a small glass of dairy-free almond or coconut eggnog with extra cinnamon and nutmeg.

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