Given the copious amounts of holiday treats that fill our homes every December, you might feel justified in cutting back on other foods in order to make room for (more) dessert. After all, if you are eating less calories here so you can consume them there, it’ll all even out eventually, right? Actually, this is probably a bad idea.
Although dessert, in moderation, can certainly fit into a healthy diet, and attempting to abstain is a good way to wind up overindulging, it’s important to strive for balance, even during the holidays. What you eat has a way of affecting your body and mind in ways that can be especially hard during this harried season. The last thing that you want to add to your plate is a reduced ability to handle stress — and as it turns out, your diet plays a part in this.
Your diet affects how you respond to stress
A recent paper published in the journal Clinical Nutrition reports on a study that found people who ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables had lower levels of stress than people who did not. There’s also research suggesting people who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of proteins, and heart-healthy fats, such as plant-based oils and fatty fish, have lower levels of depression and anxiety than people who eat a diet rich in highly processed foods.
If you want to cultivate an ability to better handle stress, eating a healthy, balanced diet — one that is low in highly processed foods — should be part of your overall strategy.
Incorporate healthy eating patterns into your life
In a world where we are surrounded by fast food, pizza, and, suddenly, all sorts of yummy holiday desserts, completely cutting processed foods out of our lives is a strategy bound to end in failure. It’s also not a good idea to try to completely change how you eat, as that’s not exactly a sustainable practice.
Instead of completely changing your diet, it’s a far better idea to strive for balance, taking into account your dietary preferences, and continuing to eat some of your favourite indulgences in moderation.
This idea was the basis of a recent dietary recommendation by the American Heart Association. Rather than expecting people to completely change their diets or recommending specific foods, their suggestion is to incorporate healthy dietary patterns into the existing framework of your life.
“Asking someone to give up certain foods they grew up with or are special to them does not usually work,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at Tufts University, who was one of the authors of the recommendation.
Whether that means trying to find healthier alternatives for your favourite snacky foods; adding in extra portions of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; or simply cutting down on the frequency and portion size of certain foods, the idea is to find a way to make healtheir eating fit your life, rather than the other way around.
How to indulge, in moderation, during the holidays
This is not to say that you can’t eat your favourite desserts during the holidays. But instead of skimping on your regular meals with the intention of filling up on dessert, eat a balanced dinner, followed by a more modest portion of dessert. And if you go overboard a few times during the month, don’t sweat it — a few extra slices of pie won’t wreck your diet or your body.
These small changes can really add up, both when it comes to better handling holiday stress, as well as preventing or managing chronic conditions health conditions. “Gradual changes can have significant implications in the long run,” Lichtenstein said. No pie: bad. Less pie over time: better.