The Holiday Christmas of Healthy Eating

As summer turns to fall and the days get colder and shorter and the leaves turn a spectrum of different colors, we prepare to enter the time of year when we are at our most susceptible to poor health habits. The months of October, November, and December are what I affectionately term as the “Bermuda Triangle” of healthy eating. Let’s go month by month and look at the potential pitfalls.

October – It actually begins before October. Once the stores have finished their back-to-school sales, they immediately turn their thoughts to the next big selling opportunity – Halloween. And as we all know, these stores make it very easy to find the bags of Halloween candy. The thing is, do people really buy this candy in late September only to hold it until Halloween night? Maybe that was their intention, but let’s be honest. Halloween is a great excuse for stores to feature candy (which the rest of the year don’t even allow in their checkout lines) and a great excuse for the consumer to buy it. Normally most of us are not shopping the candy aisle. But put those candy filled end-caps and stand alones out in the middle of the store and we lose our minds.

Oh, and let’s don’t forget the day after Halloween candy sales when stores try to sell off all their excess Halloween inventory at a discount. You buy a cartful with the intention of holding it until next Halloween, right? Yeah, right. That candy will be long gone before Thanksgiving, which leads us to…

November – Of course the easy one here is Thanksgiving, a day in which we collectively gorge ourselves until we can barely walk. Then many of us have at least two or three days of leftovers as we enjoy a long four day vacation. But that’s not until the end of November. What about the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving? That’s safe, right? Well, that’s when you begin to notice (if you haven’t already) all the seasonal hot beverages, like hot cocoa and flavored coffees. Most retail coffee shops have a wide variety of specialty flavors only available this time of year. Flavors like pumpkin, cinnamon and peppermint remind us of the holidays, and that nostalgic feeling lures us into making less than sound choices. For instance, a 16oz Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha is 520 calories.

OK, so Thanksgiving has come and gone and there is no more meat left on the turkey carcass. That means it’s now time to face the third and most daunting month of the Triangle:
December – So why is December any worse than October or November? Each month has one holiday where eating is a primary feature. So they should be about the same right? Not even close. There are a few reasons why December ranks as the worst of the three, even without including Christmas (or Hanukkah).

First off, it seems that everyone is baking treats the entire month and bringing them to work. I don’t know about you but I think that every day of December we have any number of people coming in with cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, and maybe even more discount Halloween candy that for some reason they didn’t finish the day after the big candy sale. You go to the refrigerator to grab your lunch and there they are – snacks galore, wishing you glad tidings, If you refuse them you must be some kind of Scrooge, right?

Then there is the office holiday party. Most offices will have a party with lots of food and, depending where you work, maybe some adult drink as well. It’s a festive occasion and who wants to think about eating healthy when we are being festive with our co-workers? So we dive into whatever is being served and maybe grab a carrot or celery stick just because we are “being good”.

But there is another reason that December is the worst month and it is not even December’s fault. By the time December starts it is easy to just punt any effort to turn ourselves around after two months of less than stellar nutrition. Why? Because New Year’s is right around the corner! That’s when millions attempt to eat well, go to the gym, all that good stuff. You see, January has conspired to allow us to give December a free pass.
So how do we avoid getting trapped in the holiday Bermuda Triangle? It’s actually not that hard. It’s all about making wise choices. The great thing about Halloween candy is that much of it comes in “fun-size” servings. One piece of chocolate will not derail you (a fun-size Nestle Crunch is only 50 calories). One bag of chocolate will. Moderation is the key.

As for the high calorie coffee drinks, why not make them at home? You can have a delicious coffee drink for a fraction of the calories and cost that will still give ou the enjoyment of the seasonal flavors. Not only that, but you can Google different recipes and really get creative.

When it comes to the treats and snacks brought in by coworkers, again it is a matter of moderation. If there is a tray of brownies, cookies and pastries, choose one item instead of three. Or even better, make your own low calorie treats and bring them in to share. That way you control the amount of calories in the snacks.
Most importantly, don’t allow the idea of making New Year’s resolutions give you an excuse to make poor health decisions. Any day is a good day to make healthy resolutions. There is no need to wait. Making smart choices and being creative will allow you to effectively navigate your way through the Bermuda Triangle months and still feel festive.

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