Bowls of candy, an assortment of pies, holiday cookies that almost look too good to eat … almost.
‘Tis the season for indulging. But how much is too much? Is there a way to indulge without our waistlines approaching Santa-status?
Nutritional experts say, yes, you absolutely can enjoy the treats these next few holiday months offer. Some may even offer that after this year, you deserve to indulge a little.
The key, they say, is a little versus a lot.
“It’s good to let ourselves indulge and enjoy treats, but it’s important to not overdo it,” said Jill Tharp, a registered dietitian with Hospitality and Nutrition Services at Community Hospital in Munster.
When an individual consumes too much sugar at one time, a person’s blood sugar can rise and fall very quickly.
“This can leave us feeling sluggish and groggy,” Tharp said. “It can also cause an uncomfortable feeling in our gut and leave us with a stomach ache if we overdo it.”
Too much sugar over the course of several years also can put a person at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, says Rachel Kleinman, a clinical dietitian with UChicago Medicine, Ingalls Memorial.
However, Kleinman says, there is a way to enjoy the treats that the holidays offer without going overboard.
“My favorite technique is mindful eating,” she said. “When faced with a holiday or any special food, ask yourself if this is something you are truly hungry for and if you really want to eat it.”
If the answer is yes, go ahead and eat it, guilt free, Kleinman says.
“Really take the time to savor the moment and enjoy your treat,” she said. “If not, it’s OK to decline the treat or to save it for later.”
Wait a few minutes before heading back for seconds, since your feelings may change during that time period.
“Holidays only happen a few times a year, so it’s OK to overindulge every once in a while,” she said.
Teaching kids about a well-balanced diet can even include offering candy, Tharp says.
“Adding a piece of Halloween candy into a school lunch or as a treat for after dinner can be a great way to include sweets in the diet, but not encourage kids to eat too much at one time,” she said. “Parents can find what works best for them and how much they feel comfortable allowing their child to have.”
Kleinman adds that food restriction as a whole is not usually a good idea.
“It’s important to find nuance in what we are serving children and what we teach them about food,” she said. “Total sugar restriction may ultimately lead to sugar obsession or even disordered eating later on in life.”
Registered dietitian Kelly Devine Rickert, president of Devine Nutrition, says portion control is key for the whole family at Halloween.
“I’m a big fan of everything in moderation,” she said. “Should we allow ourselves or our kids to have unchecked candy and treats daily? No. But is a small piece of Halloween candy going to be detrimental? Also no.”
Rickert instead advises parents to keep Halloween candy where the adults can see it so that the candy doesn’t become part of a disappearing act.
“It’s also about portion control,” she said. “One to two small pieces every now and again are fine. Five to 15 pieces a day? Not so much.”
Here are a few other tips to keep the urge to overindulge throughout the holiday season in check:
• Only put out a few treats or keep them in a cabinet or the refrigerator to avoid snacking out of boredom and grabbing a treat each time you walk past, Tharp suggests.
• Give yourself time between dinner and dessert to help you better judge what portion of dessert would be best, Tharp said.
• Consider donating candy if kids return from trick-or-treating with more candy than they need. This can be done through organizations such as operationgratitude.com, Rickert says.
• Send guests home with desserts if you are hosting, Tharp says, so you are not left with extra treats around the house.
• Try serving a holiday-themed healthy snack first, and then bring out the sweet treats, Kleinman said. From there, encourage them to eat mindfully and savor any candy they’re actively eating.
• Make easy swaps, such as including more favorite fruits or replacing sugary beverages with diet pop or infused, sparkling or tap water, Kleinman said.
• Teach kids that if they feel full, they can have a dessert later. Tharp says wrapping up a dessert and taking it home instead is an option that allows kids to eat it when they will actually enjoy it.
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