Dance recital, piano concerto, baby shower, wedding, graduation, birthday, holidays – this time of year is packed with celebrations of all kinds. In the midst of numerous culminating events everyone is putting their best foot and largest spread forward. While this may be exciting, and fill up your social calendar, there are lots of opportunities to stray from your typical clean-eating regimen.
According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, there can be negative effects on unhealthy food choices during party season. On average, party-goers consume a whole day’s worth of calories during these events. The high-fat, high-salt load might temporarily increase blood pressure and lipids in the blood, but if you’re healthy, you should be able to recover without much difficulty. However, if you have heart disease or diabetes, it can be even more serious. And whether you are healthy or not, overeating can lead to weight gain, especially around your middle, which can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
So how do you eat sensibly at parties?
The boiler plate response to the age-old question is, “Eat before you go.” But, for real? Has that ever worked for anyone? Whenever I do it, I end up eating twice: once before I go and again after I get there.
Here are some tips that you can actually apply to your summer social line-up:
1. According to Jay Williams, Ph.D., as soon as the invitation arrives, announce you are bringing your favorite dish. Don’t ask, “What can I bring?” The answer is always “Nothing” or “A bottle of wine.” Bring a healthy dish you love, and put that on your plate first. Pro tip: Be a party all-star by bringing a clean-eating dish. I guarantee you are not the only person trying to make good food choices.
2. Absolutely no napkin eating. Be civilized and use a plate. Smaller portions make a big difference. The plate is a great visual of everything you are eating. To help prevent overindulging, survey the food before filling your plate. Walk around to see what’s available. Start with a salad or veggies. Pro tip: If your paper plate droops, you’re eating too much.
3. Don’t go to the event starving. Consciously or unconsciously “calorie banking” (saving calories for later) always backfires. Eat something before you go – even if it is just a slice of peanut butter toast. Pro tip: In a crunch for time? Grab a healthy snack and bring it in your purse or car.
4. Step away from the food table. Find someone across the room to chat with. If you don’t know anyone, here is your opportunity to make a new friend. This will help prevent you from refilling your plate with unhealthy foods. Pro tip: Keep the buffet table out of sight. Simply seeing appetizing food is all it may take to tempt you to overeat.
5. Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, suggests “be choosy with your boozy.” Alcohol is usually what does most of us in calorically. Avoid signature drinks or punch. Sugary cocktails can make you hungrier later on thanks to the huge spike in blood sugar they create. Using sugar-free mixers isn’t the solution (they make you inebriated faster). Stick with beer, wine and straight up liquor with seltzer. And make sure you follow the 1:1 rule. One alcoholic drink per hour, followed by a tall glass of water. Your liver can only process one drink per hour. Here’s a cheat sheet for standard drinks:
5 ounces of red or white wine = 125 calories
12 ounces of beer = 153 calories
12 ounces of light beer = 105 calories
5 ounces of Champagne: 110 calories
4 ounces of port = 180 calories
Pro tip: Carry around a glass of water. There is only so much food you can eat with one free hand!
No matter what strategy you employ, remember the reason for the celebration to begin with. Enjoy the company more than the food. Connect with people, share something interesting and learn something new about a guest. Always have a second-grade-appropriate knock-knock joke ready to go!
(Crystal Reynolds is an owner at 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)