We’ve crossed the threshold to the sea of gluttony — a time of year when overindulgence runs amok. As far as dieting is concerned, holiday eating can prove disastrous. Upon winter’s arrival, usually you’ve either made a promise to watch what you eat to avoid wasting another New Year’s resolution or you’ve accepted the fact that your New Year’s Eve outfit might need an elastic waistband.
Whatever the case, Lydia C. Steinman, distinguished senior lecturer and undergraduate instructional administrator for the department of nutritional sciences, advises students and faculty alike not to worry about overeating during the holidays. “It’s not a horrible thing to overeat. It’s really common,” Steinman explained. “It’s all a matter of balance.”
Steinman stresses portion size as the key to control. Being aware of what you eat will help you stop yourself from eating too much. In other words, if you’re hoping to have your fill of every dish during holiday dinners, do so responsibly. “Portion sizes are really, really important. You can take half of what you normally would and then have the same food for dinner,” she said.
If portion control sounds unreasonable, don’t fret; Steinman offers another tip for maintaining that tiny shred of dignity, as far as food is concerned: try eating slowly. “Our brains tell us when we’re full, and a lot of the time we don’t pay attention to them. But, if you do pay attention, it takes about 20 minutes after you start eating [to get full]. The slower you eat, the more aware you become of how full you are or when you’re satisfied,” Steinman said.
If you’re looking for a scientific explanation for why you feel the urge to fill your stomach to the brim with traditional holiday dishes, there isn’t one. The combination of being surrounded by loved ones and sensory overload from all the food makes eating between conversations and during football games a no-brainer.
“Hunger is a physiological need to eat, and appetite is a psychological desire to eat,” Steinman said. “Holidays like Thanksgiving have these wonderful meals with all these things you normally don’t eat. You come together with your family, and the whole purpose is to eat. We’re really influenced by our senses and, even though physiologically we’re not hungry, [when] we see and smell that piece of pie, we can anticipate what it’s going to taste like, so we take it.”
So if you thought you did pretty well surviving the Thanksgiving dinner of champions, keep up the good work. If you’re not so sure you can handle Grandma stuffing you with, well, more stuffing when you return for winter break, then consider some of the alternatives Steinman offers. Otherwise, don’t feel the need to deprive yourself.
Eat this, not that!
Check out what comes to Steinman’s mind when she hears the names of traditional holiday dishes and what diet-friendly alternatives she suggests:
Pecan or apple pie: Nuts are a known source of healthy fats and proteins, but too many in one serving can result in a very caloric dessert. “I would choose apple,” Steinman said.
Gravy: “Gravy is very caloric because it’s made with fat drippings from the turkey and milk. As an alternative, try using portion control because gravy can be a nice addition to an otherwise dry turkey.
Mashed potatoes: Though fluffy mashed potatoes are her favorite, Steinman suggests cutting down the amount of butter and switching to low-fat milk to save yourself some guilt.
Turkey: To avoid the sugary sauces and fattening gravies needed to offset a dry turkey, Steinman suggests a salt brine. “It really takes in the moisture, and it won’t dry out as much when you bake it,"