Enjoying good food with close friends and family is one of life’s simple pleasures. Celebratory meals, special occasional dishes and food rituals have dominated family life for thousands of years from Friday night dinners for the Jewish population to Ramadan for Muslims, in which a nightly feast is hosted for family members once the sun sets. One of the downsides of food focused celebrations is that the calories tend to become highly concentrated at these events with heavy, rich, high fat foods often dominating the menu. So rather than actively avoiding important family events for fear of eating too much, the key is to learn how to have some of the cake, whilst enjoying it as well, which all comes down to a few easy steps.
Forget the ‘all or nothing’ approach
Often when we are exposed to large volumes of foods that we would not usually eat, we see it as an opportunity to eat far more than we ever normally would. These mind games play havoc with our overall calorie control as they see us in a cycle of ‘being good’, or restricted or ‘bad’ and eating whatever is in front of us. Simply making food choices based on what you feel like eating, rather than eating extras just because they are there is a key step in enjoying special foods, in controlled amounts.
Just go slow
You know the family members who rush to the buffet, stack their plates and have finished their first course before you have even started? Sometimes when we are greeted with tempting treats and special foods we get excited and rush in, leaving ourselves prone to taking too much and over eating. A simple yet effective strategy is to simply slow down. Take your time in make your food selections; choose one or two dishes and return if still hungry and most importantly, take your time and savour your food. The simple act of eating more slowly will significantly reduce your calorie intake without you even noticing.
Focus on the vegetables and salad
Ideally, salad and vegetables will be served at most family events or it may become your job to prepare them but ensuring that low calorie salad and vegetables form the base of any meal, special or not is the key to long term weight control. So instead of piling on the meat, bread, grains and potatoes, make a concerted effort to fill a substantial portion of your plate with salad and vegetables. Not only will these foods fill you more quickly but they are packed full of nutrition. And there is no need to be scared of making the salad or vegetables taste great – sauces, dressings, marinades and tasty sides not only helps to make the vegetables or salad taste great but as such, you tend to eat more of them.
Practice saying no
When there are mountains of food available – dips, canapés, fried foods – extras we are not necessarily used to eating, we get into a habit very quickly to say yes and take one of everything that is offered. Then, by the time it gets to the main meal, we are already full without really having enjoyed a meal. Make a concerted effort to limit your intake of the mindless munchies such as chips, dips, pastries and crackers that can blow our calories out before we realise it, and save yourself for the main event.
Enjoy the cake
Now we get to the good bits – the special cakes or dessert or meal that is only served occasionally and the key is to enjoy it, but not binge. There is a big difference between enjoying a small slice of pudding or cake with a little ice cream and then grabbing a massive slice and going back for seconds or thirds. Remember that the most pleasure from a sweet treat is experienced in the first two to three mouthfuls, and even though many of us keep eating even though we are full and satisfied. As such, enjoy small serves of your favourite higher fat treats and special occasion meals, savour them and move on minus the guilt or obsession because rest assure, the very same treats will return next party, celebration or event.