Holidays mean a lot of love and, often, a lot of high-fat, sugary, delicious treats. To keep things in perspective, Sean Hashmi, M.D., regional director of clinical nutrition and weight management at Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California Permanente Medical Group, touts what he calls the SELF principle – Sleep, Exercise, Love and Food. “Sleep seven to nine hours. Exercise is just simply move more. Love is expressing gratitude, having close relationships, being mindful. And for food, eat mostly plants,” he says.
We chatted about this and other ways to make it through the holidays in good health.
What are the most common ways that people overeat during the holiday season?
When people get together in a celebration, and you’re distracted, it is very easy to not notice how you’re eating. Holiday parties, get-togethers, family events – or even simple things like sitting in front of a TV – make it a lot easier for you to eat more than you normally would.
How can the holidays impact our eating going forward?
During the holidays, you’re in the company of friends and you’re eating a lot of foods that hit all of those pleasure receptors in your brain. It’s hard for you to immediately turn the switch off right after the holidays, so people tend to continue those eating habits going into the new year.
What kinds of conversations should parents have with their children about healthy eating during the holidays?
If you start saying sugar is an absolute no-no or candy is an absolute no-no, we can create food insecurities and difficulties in children as they grow up. A better conversation is around moderation, around having your vegetables first. So, if your plate is half filled with salad, eat the salad first. Then, at the end of the meal, you can have a small piece of dessert. That’s a much more rational conversation that allows the child to feel like they have a choice in the matter.
What can we do about those loving prompts from family or friends to “have a little more”?
One of the tricks to the trade is, never go to a party hungry. Have those healthy, nutritious foods that are going to take up that volume in the stomach first. So, when the person does offer it, our cravings don’t overcome our willpower. Foods that are higher in fiber are great because they have that filling effect, not to mention all of the health benefits. Once your stomach is naturally full, it’s a lot easier for us to say, “I’ll just take a piece of that” instead of saying, “I’ll take all of that.”
How can families still have the traditional foods they look forward to all year without overdoing it?
There’s so much of our identity that’s linked to those family gatherings, those traditional foods. And even though we know that a lot of those foods are not necessarily good for us, the data shows that there’s never been a single villainous food or a single super food. None of those extremes exist. If you’re at an event and it’s a traditional dish, it’s perfectly OK to eat it, but the trick is to set yourself up for success by eating the healthier foods first. You’ll find that you are able to exercise more moderation, and you don’t really feel guilty doing it.