Many of these occasions centre around feasting and food – one of our most enduringly popular pleasures – but this also means it can be difficult if you’re trying to stay on the path of your healthy eating journey.We’re all for savouring special moments and treats with loved ones, but if you know you have a sweet tooth that can go a little wild, Dr. Kirsten Gerrand, Medical Doctor and Registered Dietitian, has some tips to help you navigate this time in a healthy way:
1. Ban “cheat days” & extreme thinking
Having “cheat days” where you binge and then swinging back to being super strict the next day is a flawed notion, plus a sure-fire way to make repeated dietary mistakes. A diet should be something you follow consistently over time – not a way of eating that cuts out all pleasure for short periods. In order for it to be sustainable, there must be some allowance for a few treats here and there, as long as you keep portions moderate. A few pieces of dark chocolate every day for a week is far better for your overall health than a whole chocolate cake in one sitting.
2. Know your caloric contents
As with many things, knowledge is power. When picking the treats you want to indulge in over this holiday period, do it in an informed way. If you’re choosing between one treat or another, study the label and pick the option that’s lighter in energy, sugar and fat.
In this information age we live in, caloric content of just about any treat is just one mouse click away – so you can easily find this out.
3. Eat mindfully
Avoid guzzling down mouthful after mouthful straight from the ice-cream tub: rather slow down and savour every bite, while concentrating on the flavours and the experience. Importantly, if you tend to indulge in “secret treats”, make a promise to yourself that you’ll only ever consume sweet treats in the company of others. A treat enjoyed together with loved ones is always sweeter than one you consume alone (and then feel guilty about afterwards).
Another idea is to visualise eating the treat before you actually do so, mouthful by mouthful, before you actually bring anything to your lips. For some, this process can bring about either contentment or discontentment and even reduce the desire for the treat, or help you minimise your portion size when you actually eat it.
Remember that there’s no true nutritional value to the high in sugar things we crave – they only serve to give us a dopamine rush that stimulates our brain’s reward centre.
4. Never go shopping on an empty stomach
Temptation is always greater when you’re not well fed and watered. Be sure to drink enough water during the day, as the thirst message can sometimes get confused by your brain and perceived as hunger, resulting in poor food choices. Shopping online is also better as there’s no aisle of temptation in a virtual grocery store, so it’s easier to shop for only what you need. Similarly, never indulge in treats on an empty stomach, as this sets you up for over-indulging. Rather eat something healthy like these delicious snacks from wellness brand Tony Ferguson, and then have your treat, as this will help you control portion sizes.
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to prevent and control chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. Exercise also gives you the same physiological rush of dopamine you get from eating a piece of chocolate – but it’s far healthier for you.
Interestingly, your body is also less susceptible to sugary treats immediately after exercising. Ordinarily, a spike in sugar brings about a spike in insulin, which is an anabolic hormone that promotes storage, i.e weight gain. Immediately following exercise though, your body cells become sensitised to sugar and can absorb a certain degree of it independent of insulin. This is your body’s way of replenishing your muscle stores of insulin, but the other benefit is that in the first 15-30 minutes immediately following a workout, you can absorb some sugar without the need for insulin, which negates the potential for weight gain.
This only works if you exercise for an adequate duration (over 30 minutes) and at a moderate level of intensity. Doing a lunge on your way to the pantry won’t quite cut it, but after a workout where you break a sweat, you can enjoy a small treat completely guilt-free.
We hope these eating tips help you control your sweet tooth over this holiday period, so that you can savour the odd treat, relax and enjoy this special time with loved ones – in a healthy and happy way.
ALSO SEE 5 TIPS FOR EATING SMART