Christmas is just about here. And, that means that so are all the feasts filled with sugar. But, it doesn’t have to result in extra pounds. We tell you how you can cut sugar and still enjoy yourself.
Sugar is a pretty strong craving for most of us. And, the craving becomes even worse around the holidays. After all, many of family traditions include overeating and scarfing down pies, sweet potato casserole, eggnog and so many other tasty and unhealthy treats.
So with Christmas right around the corner, you may be wondering how you’ll keep up with your healthy habits. After all, you don’t want to be a scrooge, but it can be really hard to come back from the holiday weight gain. If cutting down on sugar is a challenge for you, here are some tips to get you through this sweet season.
#1 Be Open About Your Commitment
Cutting back on sugar is hard enough. It’s even harder when you’re at a party where you are expected to pig out. Maybe you don’t want to be the bummer of the party, always going on about your dietary restrictions. With that said, if you want to successfully cut down on sugar, you’ll need, to be honest with your friends and family. Your loved ones are often a huge part of the holiday experience, and meeting your goals will be much easier if they are on your side.
You probably want people to know why you aren’t eating the unhealthier food choices that have been prepared. You shouldn’t feel pressured into eating foods that you know are not good for you. But, you also don’t want your loved ones to misunderstand why you’re passing on a second helping of the pie that they worked so hard to make.
Having a friend or family member join you on your sugar-cutting journey might make the goal more attainable. It might also make the experience more fun. If you have to do something that seems as unpleasant as cutting out sugar, having a friend or family member do it with you might help lessen the blow.
#2 Give Yourself Boundaries
It’s the holidays. That means you should have fun and enjoy foods that you can’t during other times of the year. However, if it’s important to you to keep your sugar intake low, plan ahead and create some limits for how much sugar you can consume. For instance, allow yourself one mix drink or one slice of your aunt’s best apple pie.
Identify your favorite dishes and make room for them in your meal plan. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t get to enjoy your favorite dishes this holiday season. Just choose smaller portions and savor the dishes you choose to eat. Not only will you enjoy your food more, but you’ll also find that eating slowly encourages you to eat less.
#3 Avoid Temptation
Let’s face it: Many of us (or most of us) can’t limit ourselves to only two cookies, one slice of pumpkin pie or only one mix drink. Once we have that first bite or sip, we can’t resist the craving for more. If you fall into this category, you may be better off skipping the sugary treats altogether.
Avoiding sugar and sweets altogether may prove hard to do. Make it as easy on yourself as possible.
Keep sugar out of your house if at all possible.
#4 Bring Healthier Options
It can be disheartening to watch other people eat sugary treats when you know that you can’t – or won’t – have any. And it isn’t like sugar is all bad. After all, it helps feed cells. Before you guilt yourself for eating any sugar at all, don’t forget that it’s fine in moderation and that you don’t have to give it up completely.
Christmas should be fun, so enjoy it with some of these alternative options:
This likely isn’t the first time you’ve heard of dark chocolate as an alternative suggestion to more sugary treats. Dark chocolate can be a love-it-or-hate-it treat. But for those of us who like it, it’s a good option for cutting those sugar cravings. Don’t just grab any old chocolate bar, though. Look for bars that are at least 70% cacao, and enjoy this treat in moderation.
Here is another way you can break out the dark chocolate! Once again, don’t just grab any package of chocolate-covered fruit and call it a healthy snack. Many of these pre-packaged snacks have added sugar. Instead, buy fresh fruit – like strawberries – and prepare the snack at home. Chocolate covered fruits are tasty and fun to make!
Sweet potato casserole is a holiday classic. Of course, the marshmallows, brown sugar, and other sugary additives can make the healthy sweet potato a little less than sugar-frugal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy sweet potatoes. They can be used to make great fries or even a nice helping of mashed potatoes.
Go light on the brown sugar, but oatmeal is filled with important nutrients like iron, zinc, and manganese. Plus, you can mix in superfoods like fresh strawberries and blueberries.
Low-Sugar Dessert Recipes:
Maybe none of these options sound fun enough. Christmas should be a time of splurging, right?
If this is the case for you, try to find some lower-sugar versions of your favorite recipes, or recipes that use alternative, natural sugars. You can make tasty cookies with cranberries (no sugar added) and chocolate chips (keep it dark), or try to find a healthier pumpkin pie recipe. Enjoy all of your favorites and still keep your waistline trim!
#5 Avoid Liquid Sugars
We love our holiday drinks, especially the hot ones, but liquid sugars metabolize faster than sugar in solid food and can have more immediate impact on your body. This is the hardest time of year to avoid sugary drinks, such as cider (with or without alcohol), eggnog, hot chocolate and special coffees. One glass of eggnog during the holiday season isn’t likely to undo all of your hard work, but it can make it harder to maintain your resolve.
If you drink hot chocolate, try making it with real cocoa powder, a modest amount of sugar and low fat or skim milk. If you order a café mocha or similar drink, follow a similar protocol – get the low-sugar, low-fat version.
#6 Drink (Very) Responsibly
This may be hard to do during the holidays. We get that. But, you should still limit your alcohol intake or avoid it altogether. As if liquid sugar wasn’t a big enough issue, alcohol can be even more of a problem. Already high in sugar, it could also impair your judgment, making it harder for you to abstain from other unhealthy choices.
Plus, many of the holiday alcoholic drinks already contain extra sugar because of added flavorings. If you choose to drink alcohol at parties, opt for a glass or two of non-mixed drinks such as distilled spirits or wine.
Stay hydrated by alternating your alcohol, mixed drinks and other liquid sugars with water. This can help reduce the effects of sugar and alcohol on your body, and also curb your cravings for more sugar.
#7 Use Unrefined Sugars
Some may be trying to cut back on sugar as a whole. Others are more concerned about cutting back on refined sugar. If this is the case for you, opt for natural forms of sugar, such as raw honey, agave nectar, monk fruit sweetener or stevia.
Don’t forget that even some of these alternatives may come in processed forms and may not be healthier than processed white sugar. Certain forms of natural sugar, such as agave, are high in fructose corn syrup, and may actually increase your sugar cravings. Other alternatives, such as artificial sweeteners, may boost your sugar cravings and may have other health risks associated with them when consumed in large quantities.
#8 Watch For Hidden Sugars
Sugar is put into more processed foods than you may think. If you decide to opt for fruit snacks during this holiday season, eat fresh fruit or frozen fruit with no added sugar. Fruits already have natural fructose. Of course, fruits that have been packaged in cans or that have been dried often have higher levels of fructose added to them. Cranberries are a great example of a common holiday treat that often has an excess amount of added sugar.
Even salty snacks, foods high in carbs (such as bread rolls) and condiments can be high in sugar. Finally, beware of diet foods that are low fat.
Sugar is frequently added for taste. Also remember that sugar-free food often has artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. These artificial sweeteners may increase sugar cravings.
Do your own research on what hidden sugars might appear in the processed foods that you eat. Also, don’t forget to always read nutrition labels.
#9 Avoid Fast Food Or Other Quick Fixes
The holidays are a busy time. As a result, it might be tempting to skip on cooking a healthy meal and eating at a fast food joint instead. For example, you may order take out at a Chinese restaurant, grab a burger or order a pizza. These are all quick fixes during a very stressful season, but bear in mind that all of these options are high in hidden sugars.
If you are out and about shopping or otherwise, go for healthier or low sugar options such a salad (but watch the salad dressing). Better yet, pack your lunch so that you don’t have to gamble with the nutritional content of your food.
#10 Eat Regularly And Don’t Skip Meals
Many of us have skipped meals to make room for bigger meals later in the day. We do this at Thanksgiving. We do this when we know we will be going to a buffet. And, we certainly do this on Christmas day.
However, if you decide to make your health and your diet a priority this holiday season, you will experience more benefit from eating regular meals to prevent yourself from overeating out of hunger.
#11 Exercise And Practice Mindfulness
We crave sugar for a number of reasons. Sometimes, stress causes us to crave sugar. If you find yourself craving a sugary snack, try to identify if your craving is occurring because you are hungry, stressed, tired or simply more emotional than normal.
If you’re experiencing cravings because of stress, try exercising. Not only does exercise increase endorphins and inspire a positive mood, it can also serve as a distraction when you find yourself focusing a little too much on that cup of eggnog.
Take time to be mindful during the holiday season. Keeping a journal is a great way to de-stress, and tracking your progress on lowering your sugar intake can be encouraging if you are doing well, or motivational if you’re struggling. If you do find yourself struggling, tracking your progress may also help you keep your thoughts organized and help keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
You want to look good and feel great, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself. The holidays should be an occasion for family, friendship, giving and quality time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to cut back on sugar, and making this choice will help you to be healthier in the long run. With that said, if a sugary drink or snack slips through the cracks, then don’t be hard on yourself.
Remember, even if you eat a few pieces of pie during the course of the holidays, New Year’s resolutions are right around the corner. Maybe by next year, you’ll have kicked your cravings for sugar altogether.
By Sarah Butcher