Holiday Binge Eating: Don't Do It

By Adam Swenson

What’s a holiday party without egg nog, wine, cheesecake, pie, and a dozen or so selections off that all-too-accessible triple-decker cookie tray? For years, I was a serial offender, taking in a cool 1,000 calories at dinner (another helping of mashed potatoes and gravy? Yes please!), then grazing on sweets throughout the evening until the aggregated food working its way through my GI tract bore a disconcerting resemblance to a cannonball.

Data from the Economic Research Service indicates that the daily calorie intake of the average American increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000. And that’s just an average—holidays are a well-known splurge time. This year, let’s take a smarter approach.

Pick a Number

A 200-calorie splurge is going to be much more easily processed than an 800-calorie splurge, which is all too easy if one falls into the mindless grazing scenario. (A 2005 study found that people walking on a treadmill burned an average of 80 calories per mile walked. Are those Frosty-the-snowman sugar cookies really worth it?)

Grab a small plate, pick 200 of your favorite calories, and enjoy. Skip the return trip.

Make Your Own Healthy (and Delicious) Holiday Treats

There’s no rule that food in the months leading up to winter solstice must be bad for you. Be countercultural: lay aside the snickerdoodles at 145 calories (or 1.8 miles!) each and try making Tasty Lemon-Cashew Freezer Cookies. (Recipe from Real Moms Love to Eat.)

Combine 2 cups soaked cashews, ¼ cup agave nectar, 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice, 2 ½ tablespoons freshly grated and finely chopped lemon zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ¼ teaspoon sea salt in the blender or food processor until it forms a dough. Form it into a roll with your hands and slice. Keep those cookies in the freezer for sweet-tooth moments.

While most holiday treats are loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats, these cookies are raw fruit and nuts—magnificent.

Reconsider Feasting

Feasting on special occasions is an ancient tradition that continues to the present day. In its original context, it helped to make the day a memorable and festive event. Commoners throughout the ages certainly did not have an overabundance of food, and the food they did have was of the same-old, staple variety: meat, in-season vegetables and fruit, bread, and rice. It was precisely that break from the mundane and the not-enough that made feast days so special.

You and I do not share this condition. Middle-class Americans eat amply day in and day out: food comes to us from drive-through windows, sitting down at Outback Steakhouse, from vending machines, and even from Amazon.com. So, the next time you’re feasting to celebrate the survival of the pilgrims or the arrival of a baby boy in Bethlehem, pick a reasonable helping of your favorite foods and savor them. Unlike our distant, manually-laboring ancestors, we don’t really need seconds.