Most people gain between one and two pounds every year between October and January, and their boss may be partly to blame. Well-meaning but misguided managers will often seek to break the tension of year-end stress and deadlines by showering their employees with comfort foods, says a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based registered dietician and certified diabetes educator. But, she adds, these are often sugary carbohydrates that will render you sluggish within hours. Our typical holiday foods don’t just pack on the calories, they also can end up making us less productive.
“Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon,” Ron Friedman, a business consultant, wrote recently in a Harvard Business Review blog piece titled What You Eat Affects Your Productivity.
There are foods that give us energy and foods that take energy away, and it’s important to think about how we’re fueling our bodies, Ms. Crandall said. Simple carbohydrates (think white rice, white bread, chips, crackers) and sugary foods (cake, cookies, candy, chocolate) cause a spike–and then a drop–in blood sugar levels, causing the ensuing feelings of exhaustion and lack of productivity. And yet these are precisely the foods we often eat plenty of at office holiday parties, year-end gatherings and emergency snack attacks during late-night deadline crunches.
We asked Ms. Crandall for guidelines for surviving holiday eating without compromising your energy, productivity, and waist line:
1. Even when eating on the run, make smart choices. For example, if you have to eat a quick lunch and only have time for a sandwich, choose whole wheat bread instead of white, and add a source of protein. “The protein and fiber together will help keep your energy level stable and balanced,” Ms. Crandall said. Here are some “Cheap Healthy Lunch Ideas” from Eating Well.
2. If you are making something for the office party, do everyone a favor and leave out the least healthy ingredients. “Even simple substitutions will help cut down the calories,” Ms. Crandall said. For example, take out the heavy whipping cream and use low fat milk, and substitute oil with apple sauce, she suggested. Epicurious offers these “Healthy Eating Tips and Light Party Recipes for the Holidays.
3. When you’re at that holiday party, stay away from foods that trigger binge eating. “Those are the foods that you know, once you start eating them, you can’t stop,” Ms. Crandall said. If you can’t eat just one little handful of Wheat Thins, best to steer clear before you finish the entire tray. Only serve yourself a certain food if you know you can stick to an appropriate serving size, she advised. She also advises replacing the calories in alcohol, apple cider and eggnog with herbal teas, or darker cocoa which has less added sugar. Still not sure which foods to avoid this holiday season? In this Everyday Health quiz you can find out which office holiday party alcoholic beverages will pack on the fewest – and most – calories.
4. If it’s a potluck, bring something healthy, thereby ensuring there will be at least one healthy dish to pick from. Ms. Crandall’s personal favorite is cut up apple wedges and a dip made of 8 oz. non-fat Greek yogurt, one 15 oz. can pumpkin, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. For additional healthy recipes, Ms. Crandall recommends checking out eatright.org–take care of yourself but don’t punish yourself.
5. If you’re the boss, plan an active holiday celebration instead of one that’s centered around food. Get your team out hiking, sledding, snowshoeing, or, if you can’t handle the cold, plan an indoor game that your staff can get on board with, Ms. Crandall advised. The key is to provide an activity that will keep everyone’s mood, energy and endorphin levels– and consequently– productivity, elevated, she said. While a cupcake might make someone really happy in the moment, a burst of activity will have a longer lasting effect. “Keep your staff active and energized to trump the stress and to break the tension of those deadlines,” she added. If no one at your office is qualified to plan a high-energy employee activity or outing, consider engaging a company such as Zogsports to help you organize your “Active Employee” program.
Have any tips of your own? Feel free to add them in the comments section and have a lovely (healthy) Holiday season!