Amidst the bright lights, decorations and cards, this time of year may evoke a range of emotions—from excitement and love, to anxiety and loneliness. Whether sharing the holidays with shipmates at sea, enjoying a big meal with family or celebrating solo, your mindset can affect your nutritional choices and vice versa. “Remember it’s all about balanced eating,” says Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager. “The food we consume can affect the way we think, feel, act and interact with those around us. A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers.” Here are a few mealtime tips to help you balance your mood, cravings and the stress of shedding post-holiday pounds this FITmas.
Celebrating the Holidays in the Barracks? While you may miss family dinners this season, you don’t have to spend meals alone. Make plans to share a meal with your roommates and other Sailors in the barracks. Eating together creates a community support system, thwarting feelings of loneliness by promoting shared experience. Opt for healthier menu items like steamed vegetables (frozen steam-in-bag veggies can be found at the commissary), low fat cheeses, and quick sources of protein (canned low-sodium salmon or chicken breast). Check out the Guard Your Health campaign’s Class I Recipes for barracks-friendly meals, like this 8-Can Taco Soup.
Find Yourself Stress Eating More Often? Stress-eating may have gotten a bad rap (but we’re not giving you permission to down a bag of M&Ms while reading this post!). Eating the right foods when your emotions are running high can actually help calm you down, and finding the right foods doesn’t have to add to the stress. For example, try going for a handful of almonds instead of reaching into the candy jar. Almonds contain vitamins B12 and E, as well as magnesium and zinc, helping your body balance “fight or flight” responses when stress strikes. And, you don’t have to banish carbs to Mount Crumpit with the Grinch, just choose wisely! Carbohydrates help the body produce serotonin, which helps promote a sense of calm and reduce cravings. Go for complex carbs like 100% whole grains, remembering that moderation is key. Watch for added ingredients like sugar and other markers of highly-processed food. Green vegetables, beans, corn and potatoes are also smart carb choices.
Practice Mindful Eating. Mindful eating is helpful any time—from stressful situations, to facing a plethora of delicious-but-not-so-nutritious dishes at a holiday meal. To practice mindful eating, start by listening to your body. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are reaching for food out of emotional pleasure or discomfort. If you are indeed hungry, start with a small serving on your plate (about the size of two fists). Eat your meal with intention, one forkful or spoonful at a time, placing your utensil down between each bite. Focus on your food’s taste, smell, texture and how you feel while eating it. (You can still connect with others during your meal, but try not to talk with your mouth full!) Once you’ve finished your first serving, allow yourself three to five minutes before going for more. Consider whether you’re still hungry or if you’re overindulging just because the food is available. Eating mindfully can help you enjoy the flavor of your meal without plowing through it and seeking more— helping to keep your energy levels balanced and thwart the holiday poundage.
You may not be able to eat your way out of stress altogether, but you can make smart choices to help navigate stress, build resilience and promote Total Sailor Fitness from the inside-out. To help you determine your ideal caloric and nutrient intake, use an online tool such as the SuperTracker on www.choosemyplate.gov.