SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Navigating the holiday buffet

Maureen Wendt

The holiday season is upon us. For many, the holidays are a time of travel, parties, big meals, snack foods and drinking, all of which can create a challenging environment for eating healthy. Also during the season, so many people fail to prepare for the onslaught of junk food, chocolates, candy, and other snacks and unhealthy meals that will assault them while they are gift shopping. Because you're going to run into massive temptation during the holiday season, here are some tips.

• If you're starving while shopping and you have to get something to eat, choose a healthier restaurant over the fast food options inside the food court. Believe it or not, loud and chaotic environments actually cause people to eat more. So, choose a low-key, healthy restaurant instead, and you can order a sensible meal instead of indulging in the high-calorie, high-fat, high sugar meals that you'll typically get in a fast food setting.

• It's really tough avoiding junk food and other unhealthy snacks no matter where you are, but surprisingly enough, this is especially true at the office. People are always bringing in holiday cakes, cookies, cupcakes, candy, chocolates and all kinds of other delicious yet calorie-laden snacks. The attraction is incredibly difficult for many people, but mostly because they haven't prepared for the inevitable onslaught of holiday temptations. To combat these temptations, we highly recommend leaving healthy snacks on hand at the office. If you have something else to munch on while everyone else is stuffing their face with holiday treats, you'll be able to stick to your healthy eating plan and not feel deprived or left out.

• You'll get frustrated, feel unhappy, and ultimately give up and go overboard if you completely deprive yourself of amazing holiday treats. So, indulge a little during the holidays and then immediately go back to your healthy meal plan when you're through.

• While attending holiday parties, avoid eating high-calorie foods by not putting too many of them on your plate when you decide to eat. When we have a variety of foods on our plates, we tend to eat more regardless how hungry we are, so put less food on your plate and you'll find it easier to avoid. Eat a small, balanced meal or snack before you leave home, to avoid overindulging (another great reason to not skip breakfast and lunch). Study all of the food options, and think about what you are going to have before you put anything on your plate. Decide which foods are worth eating and which can be ignored, and then stick to that decision.

• Hosting? Make sure the menu includes healthy food choices such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Baking, broiling and barbecuing are good methods for cooking meats such as turkey. Avoid frying or adding extra fat during cooking. When you're cooking, avoid sampling the foods more than necessary. If you're the host of the dinner, clear the table and put away unused food to help guests avoid grazing. Are you a guest at a family member's or friend's home? Offer to bring along a healthy dish that you know you will enjoy and can substitute for a not so healthy options.

• After your meal, take a walk with family and friends. Exercise will also get you moving, keep you focused on your goals, and give you a welcome break from being surrounded by treats.

• If you plan to travel to enjoy the holidays with loved ones, you will likely be spending time away from home in cars or on airplanes. The eating on-the-go that comes along with travel makes it hard to maintain control of food choices. Plus, exhausting travel days pose other challenges to healthy eating by throwing off meal times and limiting good food options. Bring along snacks that are both satisfying and convenient like protein-packed beef jerky, single pouches of tuna and string cheese and high-fiber plant-based foods like fresh fruit, banana chips, nuts, seeds, and roasted chickpea snacks.

There are always endless reasons to not make changes. Whether it's the difficulty of limiting holiday indulgences or not wanting to disappoint your host by saying no to second portions, excuses abound. It might seem like there couldn't be a worse time than the start of the holiday season to commit to a healthy lifestyle, but in fact there's no better time than now. Considering that holiday eating often results in excess weight gain that only leads to New Year's resolutions and dieting, starting now can help reframe old thinking patterns and stop procrastination.

During this holiday season make a promise to put yourself at the top of your list.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .