The holiday season and a lethargic food coma seem to go hand in hand. It starts with Thanksgiving dinner and carries through until the New Year when you find yourself recovering from a hangover with pizza and couch time. (Or is that just us?) To help you avoid falling into that comatose trap after overindulging, we spoke to Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., for her best tips on handling the holiday season and avoiding unhealthy habits that leave you bloated and tired.
1. Start with a healthy, filling breakfast.
Too often, people try to save their calories before a big dinner and go into it starving, which leads to overdoing it at that meal and feeling stuffed and tired afterward, says Casper. Begin your day with a breakfast that’s high in protein. It’ll help you keep cravings in check and control your appetite for the rest of the day, so you’ll have an easier time making healthier food choices later.
2. Drink enough water.
Start your day with a big glass of water and remember to stay hydrated throughout the day to prevent overeating later. Thirst can mask itself as hunger, causing you to overeat, says Casper. Water will help you feel fuller, which can help you eat less during a meal. One study found that drinking two glasses of water before a meal helped people lose and keep weight off, so drink up! If you find yourself forgetting to sip, set an alarm or reminder on your phone to go off a few times a day and drink four to eight ounces every time you hear it.
3. Eat slowly and tune into fullness signals.
How many times have you craved something and then wolfed it down so fast you barely tasted it? “It’s more satisfying to slowly eat your food, noticing smells, textures, and flavors as you go,” says Casper. By eating mindfully, you will enjoy your food more. Plus, eating slowly allows your body time to recognize that you’re nearly satisfied. It takes roughly 20 minutes for the stomach to send signals to the brain that you’re beginning to get full. If you’ve already rushed through your meal you may have already eaten what you needed and more, Casper says. Put your fork down, take sips of water in between bites and engage in conversation to slow down.
4. Reduce your processed foods consumption.
Foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars are the fastest to digest, which make blood sugars levels fluctuate, leading to sluggishness after a meal, says Casper. (That’s why you might experience a sugar rush after eating a holiday dessert and then have low energy after.) “Look for carbohydrates that are high in fiber, like whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, all of which will help slow digestion and avoid the crash.”
5. Approach a big meal with a plan.
Whether you’re faced with a work holiday luncheon or a neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party, take time to survey the full spread and select the dishes you want the most. Then, fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables, suggests Casper. “Not only are fruits and vegetables lower in calories, but the fiber content also slows digestion and lowers blood sugar spikes so you won’t feel as sleepy later.” Add a small scoop of each of your desired dishes to the plate so you’ll have a more balanced meal while enjoying those special treats.
6. Exercise before you go.
Working out before a meal reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin, so you’ll be more likely to choose smaller portions and make better food choices when faced with a tempting spread. “I also recommend getting some activity in after eating,” says Casper. Round up friends and family for a walk. Exercise helps speed up digestion and lowers blood sugar, which means you’ll feel a lot better than if you crash on the couch. Walking for 10 to 15 minutes after eating can also help with bloating, so you’ll feel more comfortable in your clothes the rest of the day.
7. Enjoy your favorite foods.
“This may sound counterintuitive, but I recommend making sure you eat some of your favorite dishes,” says Casper. “Denying yourself your favorites can lead to bingeing, if not during dinner then later.” Practice the tips we mentioned above so you savor your favorite dishes with loved ones, rather than eating a salad at a party and noshing on junk food at home later.