Tricky Holiday Dining Event #5: The Grand Finale, Dessert

Think back to the holiday season of 2014.

What was the outcome of your approach to eating during that time, and, in particular, how did you handle the main holiday meal?

Maybe you started the day with a workout, eliciting a more sensitive insulin response, allowing you to more efficiently process the excess carbs, and a more robust circulatory system to weather the influx of fat circulating in blood.

You kept hydrated all day and ate a healthy, balanced meal earlier in the day, rather than opting to save all your daily calories for later.

Once you arrived at the dinner, you may have shied away from the baked Brie wrapped in filo, turned down the creamed spinach and easily declined the cheese straws.

And when the meal finally came around, you helped yourself to the salad, the veggie sides and some of that delicious turkey leg and skin, all rounded out nicely with a ladle full of those decadent pan drippings.

All things considered, you did quite well at balancing your holiday meal in a circumstance that could have gone topsy-turvy…and then dessert happened.

In a study conducted in conjunction with MyFitnessPal users and the Washington Post[1], 88% of those surveyed said they plan to relax their food rules at least a little during the holidays; 10 % said they planned to chuck the rules entirely.

Not surprisingly, desserts made up a sizeable chunk of those calories which individuals deemed as worthy of making up that food relaxation attitude they’re adopting right about now.

It’s not just one dessert to pass on, either.

There are pecan, apple and pumpkin pies, assorted ice creams and whipped creams, fruitcakes and Christmas puddings and cookies.

Oh, and that’s not included the beverages! How about the rum-spiked eggnogs and spiced hot ciders, the Christmas coffees and brandies?

If it were any other evening and you decided to have a bite of a small, shared dessert after a balanced meal, the small amount of sugar you’d get in a mouthful or two wouldn’t play too much of a role in making any significant changes to the overall macronutrient profile of a meal.

But change that two bites of a small dessert as part of your dinner which had ample protein, veggies and good fat to taking a bite of everything after you’re likely already quite full and you’ve got an entirely different situation.

You’ve got a few choices here:

  • Skip it. All of it. If you’ve been implementing trial and error for a while and truly understand the connection between how you feel when you eat certain foods and proactively avoid those you know will make you feel awful, there’s a good chance you won’t want the sugary stuff in the first place.   If you’ve been lingering around so long, as we often do during the holidays, that you’re actually a bit hungry again, grab a handful of raw walnuts paired with a piece of premium raw, dark chocolate and savor this treat, my personal fave, which is pure decadent without a downside to fact later.
  • Choose which you’ll partake in and plan for it. Suss out the dessert offerings in advance and see which are viable options. If you’ve arrived at the point where you get that eating gluten is an absolute ticket to a long, unpleasant time in the loo, the pies and cakes aren’t even an option, but the homemade sorbet may be. If there are a couple of good options that you’d like to enjoy, factor those in when you’re considering that second glass of wine. Better to choose one or the other to make a more enjoyable experience of whichever one you’ve opted to indulge in.
  • Have a bite of a few… but only if you honestly are one of the minority, who truly can stop there, and you know who you are. Most people cannot actually have just a little, which is why I have such an issue with the ‘everything in moderation approach’. Foods high in refined fats and together combined stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do, which may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.[2]
  • Bake it yourself. Second best case scenario, after skipping all the dessert, that is, would be to bake something yourself and bring it to the gathering. You control the source and amount of sugar you want to use, if you use any at all, as well as ensure it’s not only dairy free, but lacking grains as well as any other unfavorable ingredients or colorings. Just because it happens to be gluten-free baking week right now, you certainly don’t have to overdo it! Choose one recipe, such as the one I created for Holiday Spiced Meringues with Toasted Pecans and keep it as clean as you can. If you’re going to indulge, may as well do so in the healthiest manner possible. (By the way, who ever said gluten-free baking had to mean using other highly refined flours?  How about no flour at all?  Just saying…)

If you take charge and plan our your strategy in advance, just like with all the other tricky dining situations we will all inevitably face this holiday season, we can set ourselves up for success and a healthier, more enjoyable festive meal.




[1] Holiday Eating: Why You Feel so Lousy after a Huge Holiday Meal.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015

[2] “Why Oreos Are As Addictive As Cocaine To Your Brain.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015