Sitting at a holiday meal and feeling like you can’t eat anything is not a good feeling. However, if you have moderate or severe disease in terms of diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, the stakes are relatively high. While overindulging for one meal is not necessarily a life-threatening occurrence (but can be very problematic, for instance, in someone with severe diabetes), most Americans tend to overindulge for the entire holiday season, not necessarily for just one meal.
If you or your family are preparing your own holiday feasts, it can be relatively simple to decrease the amount of salt or sugar added to various recipes. For example, sugar-free pies and desserts can be made or purchased (sweetened with Xylitol, Stevia, aspartame, or other alternative sweeteners), and cranberry sauce without sugar can also be used.
In terms of sodium, less salt can be used in the preparation of foods, and other guests not worried about their sodium intake can simply add salt at the table. Other spices and salt substitutes can also be utilized to decrease the salt content of foods. Additionally, bear in mind that processed foods like pre-packaged stuffing, canned vegetables and other ready-made foods are generally much higher in salt (and sugar) than many homemade foods, so make it from scratch if you can.
If you are dining at the home of friends, a community meal or a restaurant, this can get trickier, and moderation is the best way to go.
If All Else Fails, Try Moderation
When faced with weeks of reveling and enjoying the holidays, you don’t want to feel like an ascetic who lives in a cave while the people around you seem to be living in a holiday paradise. If you have no other choice and cannot exercise control over how your food is prepared or where it is purchased, you can exert control in terms of how much you eat, and which foods you choose to avoid.
For moderation to succeed, you need to exercise self-control and restraint to minimize the damage, avoiding the foods that you know are the highest in the substances you need to avoid (like sugar or salt). And if you just have to have that piece of pie or cookie or ice cream, make the serving small—as small as possible—and enjoy it without going back for seconds.
When it comes to starches, instead of having the stuffing, the bread, the sweet potatoes and the mashed potatoes, choose one or two of those offerings and have a small amount of each rather than indulging in all four.
Other strategies involve leaning more towards vegetables, lean proteins and other foods more friendly to your dietary restrictions, and avoiding sugar-laden drinks like juice, cider, soda, and alcohol.
You Can Still Have Fun
No matter your restrictions, remember that you can still have fun. While food may be central to many American holidays, bear in mind that people and relationships are what truly make the holidays great, and focusing on the people you love—rather than the food you can’t have—will help you to be happier and healthier this holiday season.