• Sun, Feb 3 2013

How Can We Stop Equating Celebrations With Unhealthy Food (And Should We)?

unhealthy-holiday-food

I love — love — chicken wings. Absolutely love them. They have a great texture, the taste is almost always wonderful and they hold a certain nostalgic value for me. When I was a kid, my parents used to order pizza once in a long while and we’d get chicken wings which always made us super excited (we ate really healthily otherwise), so we would all pop a movie in and relax together. As I got older, I wound up feeding into that nostalgia with a longterm boyfriend and I’s tradition over the course of several years wherein every Wednesday, we went to Hooter’s (I know, I know, I’ll examine that weirdness on my part someday, too). He and I absolutely loved eating tons of wings together, so the connection between the food and my loved ones grew even more. Unfortunately, celebratory or holiday food can lead to tying beloved memories and people to specific items — often unhealthy ones.

On this, the evening of the Super Bowl, we recognize that millions of Americans will be eating tons of finger food and drinking who-could-even-guess-how-much beer. These will be traditions that several generations have and will pass down; everyone will be eating quite a bit of wings, pizza, bacon bites, pigs in a blanket and the rest of the greasy, delightful snacks we’ve all grown to know and love for holidays. But is passing these recipes and traditional celebratory foods down making Americans more unhealthy?

The problem is not that there is a whole lot of unhealthy food consumption going down during holidays; the issue is our healthiness throughout the rest of the year. I, for one, know I am not healthy all of the time. I try to eat pretty well and cook for myself nowadays, but when I was 19 and in college, eating those wings once a week, I literally ate a salad with avocado and toast with avocado for two meals a day. My nutrition was terrible, but sadly, many Americans are in the same boat: we aren’t healthy all the rest of the time, so being unhealthy for all the holidays throughout the year is actually a pretty big deal.

Plus, people like Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at the Office of Community & Public Health at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, question the lingering remains of your celebratory meal: the leftovers. After all, parties often require a bit of overestimation to ensure nobody runs out of food, so some fridge stock is bound to occur. This means families will picking at the these scraps for a few, if not several, more days — thereby making them less healthier for a longer time.

Yes, enjoying yourself with family is always important when you’re celebrating something, as well as when you’re not. But remember, holiday food can be amazing even when it’s not unhealthy for you. Whether it’s Christmas or the 4th of July or even later today, try to concentrate on how wonderful it is to spend time with your loved ones as well as making more mindful choices on which foods to consume. Rather than piling six wings on your plate at once, try eating small portions of multiple foods on one plate so you feel as though the variety’s been good while also not overeating. If you’re still hungry, you can always go back, but not having the temptation sitting there even after you’re full is never a good idea.

If you hold a connection between delicious, high-calorie holiday food and hanging out with the people you care about, you’re not alone. That said, it’s important to care for your health as best as possible. If you can eat poorly for one day and handle that, then eat and exercise wonderfully for the rest of the year, kudos to you. But for those of us — myself included — who aren’t always so disciplined, we should all try to pay a little more attention to how we’re going to be healthier, even when celebrating.

Photo: Shutterstock

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  • Eileen

    My main issue with the bingeing that goes on during celebrations is the fasting that often goes with it. When I was 19 or so, Saturdays saw me eat eggs at breakfast, then basically nothing until it was time to go out. I’d even run a couple of miles, even though I didn’t really have the fuel for it, at the gym to try to balance out the beer and pizza that I knew would follow. I got over this habit by junior year, but I do think that worse than eating regularly and then crappy food on top of it is cutting out healthy foods so that you can eat crappy ones and not gain weight!

  • denny

    I think if Americans found more joy in their food on a daily basis, we wouldn’t feel the need to pig out so much on “special occasions!” (I’m guilty of this, by the way)