The stomach can easily stretch to accommodate a gigantic meal, so it’s easy to overindulge before the consequences — which can be dangerous — become evident. But a sumptuous holiday meal can be enjoyed without doing damage.
For most people, the after-effects of eating enormous amounts of food at one sitting are simply unpleasant, with heartburn and gas being common symptoms. However, for anyone with clogged arteries, the results can be deadly. More people die from heart disease between Christmas Day and January 7 than at any other time of year.
Eating a lot more than you’re accustomed to diverts blood to the digestive process, away from the heart and brain. And the combination of excess salt, carbohydrates, and fat causes blood pressure to rise, and arteries to constrict and become more inflamed, significantly increasing the chances of a heart attack.
If your Christmas Day tradition is to overindulge in everything that’s served and then sit around and perhaps take a nap, a few simple changes can make you feel better and may even save your life. These are some healthy ways to enjoy that special day:
• Start with a light breakfast that contains lean protein (eggs or an egg white omelet with vegetables) and some fresh, high-fiber fruit such as berries. Forego potatoes, cereals, biscuits, buns, waffles, pancakes, French toast, and syrups. There are plenty of other days to enjoy these.
• If you get hungry before the main meal, have a small but nutritious snack of about a dozen raw or dry roasted nuts (without salt or lightly salted) and a small piece of fruit such as a tangerine. Almonds or walnuts are good choices of nuts.
• Before the big meal, keep your hands away from miscellaneous snacks. Instead, get interested in the people with whom you’re sharing this special day.
• Pay attention to what you’re drinking and don’t rush. For every glass of wine or other type of alcoholic drink, have a glass of sparkling or plain water.
• When the big meal begins, take an inventory of the options before putting food on your plate. Decide what you really like and stick with those foods. Skip the ones you don’t especially care for.
• Take a normal amount of each type of food. No one’s getting a prize for having the tallest pile on their plate, and you can always go back for seconds.
• Ideally, pick only one starch or, if you really want two, take a half-serving of each.
• Stay interested in the people around you, eat slowly, and savor each bite.
• Before reaching for seconds, take a break. Check the weather outside or indulge in a little conversation. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to sense fullness in the stomach. If you feel like eating more, choose between having seconds (a small portion) or dessert — eating only the treats you truly enjoy.Stay Away from the Couch
Once dinner is over, relax a bit and then, look for something to do other than sitting around. Play with kids; invite others to go for a walk, or take the dog out (it doesn’t have to be your dog); or play some games that involve moving around, such as ping-pong, charades, or video games that make you move. Or, in the spirit of the season, sing some Christmas carols.
A 150-pound person, standing up and singing, will burn about 130 calories (the amount in approximately 1.5 glasses of wine) in an hour, a bit less than about 200 to 225 calories for walking at a fairly leisurely pace. A heavier person will burn more, but calories aren’t the important issue at this point.
Even if you paced yourself throughout the meal, you will have enjoyed some rich foods. Moving around a bit will help your body to deal with the meal, and you’ll feel better the rest of the day and the next morning.
If you don’t know all the lyrics for traditional carols and Christmas songs, The Caroling Corner has a good selection. What better way to celebrate?
Have a happy, healthy, and very Merry Christmas!