November 10, 2022

Holiday Food Myths Busted

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they debunk myths surrounding eating during the holidays.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • How the holidays may cause us to rethink our eating habits
  • Holiday food myths
  • How to approach eating if you struggle with food or worry about weight gain during the holidays

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 118. Is that piece of pumpkin pie okay to eat? Oh, I think so. But we’ll find out. Should you do a post holiday cleanse to lose weight or even substitute ingredients to your holiday meal to prevent weight gain? Coming up, we debunk myths around how we eat during the holidays.
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s a podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve your health and wellbeing through small, healthy habits we can all start right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. Every other week, we are going to sit down with a certified expert to discuss topics that cover fitness, nutrition a lot more. On this one, it’s definitely about nutrition. We’re in the holiday season, so that’s what we’ve got to think about. But there are a lot of facts/fiction, some myths that go along for the ride with this idea. To find out what they are and if some of these myths are things that maybe we live by from year to year, we’re joined by registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Shanthi Appelö. Hello, Shanthi.

Shanthi Appelö:
Hello. How is it already holidays?

Chuck Gaidica:
I know. Isn’t that wild?

Shanthi Appelö:
I know. I think a lot of us are still like, “It’s 2020 March, still,” pre-pandemic. It’s hard to imagine it’s gone this far.

Chuck Gaidica:
I love talking to you in general, but you literally were just cooking before we got together today, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
I was.

Chuck Gaidica:
So you’re making healthy stuff, and this is an idea that we’ve got to talk about because there’s so much that goes along for the ride when it comes to the holidays. For gathering with family and friends, we love to, in general, but especially around the holidays, break bread with people, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Because that’s how we kind of have conversation. We feel closer. And it’s also a time when just the thought of eating, just the thought of maybe getting together with people for the giant table, and I don’t mean even the dessert table, but just the giant table of food is coming out that can give people cold sweats, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a lot of anxiety tied around the holidays, and a lot of it is food related. Sure, it can be other things. Stress being around family, maybe. Not everyone has positive family relationships. There are so many gatherings and commitments going on around the holidays. So whatever the stress is, it’s definitely something that we deal with during the holidays. But the food I can definitely speak to, and whenever I used to work in a clinic, when people experience the most stress surrounding food was, “I have Thanksgiving coming up. I have whatever December holiday that they’re celebrating coming up.” And it’s understandable. I think a lot of times too, we are met with family that want to share their food, that they’re happy. You think of your grandma who has her cookies and it’s like, “Well, have a few more,” right?

Chuck Gaidica:
“Or clean your plate.” I heard that my whole life, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes. Clean plate club, yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Right.

Shanthi Appelö:
So a lot of us are expected to enjoy food with other people, and that can cause anxiety too.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I want to get to the myths that we hear, because that’s the way some people go about how they actually plan the days leading up to, and then during the day of a holiday gathering. I’ll say it, I’ve never really practiced this idea that I’m going to eat until I’m so stuffed, I’m going to loosen my belt. But then there’s literally people who just do that. They’re just going to eat until they’re ready to drop or take a nap on Thanksgiving and they loosen their belt and they forget about all those things that we’re going to talk about. So I guess in a way that’s freeing.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
That they’re not worried about if they’re not eating before or if they’ve cut back on something. But yeah, there are certain ways that people deal with this.

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly.

Chuck Gaidica:
So let’s talk about this idea of the holidays and rethinking maybe how we all approach leading up to these holiday meals. What are some of the myths you want to share with us that a lot of us have heard over time? And then help us understand, is it true false, is there something in the middle we should think about?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. Well, I think one that’s really common is skipping meals to save calories. How many times have you heard that?

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, not just heard it, I’ve done it.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
To be fair, I would cut back on having a lunch the day of Thanksgiving just because I think, it’s twofold, I need to leave more room for the good stuff and because the calorie load will be so high that I’ll just skip lunch.

Shanthi Appelö:
I think that’s perfectly understandable. And so a lot of people have this goal not to overeat during the holidays, but in a way, skipping meals can actually backfire on you. So you go all day without eating, you’re saving up for all these things, you want to make sure that you can squeeze in that slice of pumpkin pie or whatever it is. You may actually find yourself overeating if you haven’t eaten earlier that day. So you’re so hungry that you end up eating too fast and eating too much, and then you feel not so great after because not only is your belly stuffed, but you might feel guilty about what you had consumed because oftentimes if you have those feelings of guilt because you intended to skip meals during the day, you may have some kind of restriction tendencies and anxiety tied to that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Interesting. And what you’ve pointed out is really also interesting is oftentimes you don’t get those feelings of guilt until it’s done, until you’re done eating, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
You didn’t get it while you were doing it. You didn’t get it before because you’re busy chatting with people or whatever. But now all of a sudden, you’re sitting on the couch. Not only are you stuffed, but you may be feeling bad emotionally.

Shanthi Appelö:
And I think prioritizing emotional health is so important during the holidays, especially when it comes to food.

Chuck Gaidica:
All right. So what else? What’s another myth? Throw one at me.

Shanthi Appelö:
Substituting ingredients will prevent weight gain.

Chuck Gaidica:
Like what? Splenda versus sugar or something, that kind of substituting?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, sure. That could be one of them. If you think about using something else instead of stuffing, or if you have a pasta recipe, you use zoodles, the zucchini noodles instead. Whatever it is, oftentimes when you substitute, especially when it’s your favorite recipe, you end up wanting that so much more. And it’s kind of a form of restriction in a way. So you’re like, “Okay, I don’t get to have my favorite thing, so then I’m still craving it. I can’t stop thinking about the real deal.” And then you might find yourself binging or overdoing it in another field or eventually doing everything you can to get the real deal.

Chuck Gaidica:
And so then you’re kind of overloading again on calories, even though the healthy choice is right there with you.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
All right. So a lot of people are following different kinds of ideas of Keto or this kind of diet or that kind. What’s another one that’s a myth that’s related to that idea?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, you should do a post-holiday cleanse to lose weight. Maybe it’s not even a cleanse, but maybe it’s, “After the holidays are done, I am going on a strict Keto diet.”

Chuck Gaidica:
“I’m just going to eat turkey. I’m not going to eat all that other stuff.”

Shanthi Appelö:
“I’m only eating vegetables and protein.” Yes. That is so common. Let’s talk about the cleanse first. We’ve talked about in a previous podcast, all of those health drinks and how a lot of times they don’t work for us. Oftentimes when someone’s looking to do a cleanse, they’re looking to get rid of toxins, they’re looking to reduce bloat, they’re looking to get something bad out of their body. That’s what we think of when we think of a cleanse. But just a reminder here that we have so many body parts that do this for us. Nothing that we drink or consume is going to do it for us. We have our kidneys that filter the blood, they remove all these toxins. We have the liver that helps process these nutrients and modify these toxins that are bad for us and make it easier for the kidneys to eliminate it.
And then we have our lungs that remove these airborne toxins, and our colon removes waste through our bowel movements. So our body is already doing these things for us. And something to realize is that oftentimes people don’t gain that much weight during the holidays. I think that’s a misconception that’s out there, but the average person may not gain more than 10 pounds. I think a lot of times people think it’s a little bit more. For some people, it’s like two pounds. And so the problem though, what happens with holiday weight gain is that it tends to not come off afterwards. And that brings us to the idea that after the holidays, a lot of people do tend to diet. It’s January 1st. People tend to put their best foot forward, eat healthy, start clean. But what we see oftentimes with these hardcore diets is that people lose weight, but then they gain more than they did to begin with, all in efforts to lose that holiday weight, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Of course, here in the north country, we’ve got another complication, which is if you’re not joining a club or some indoor place, not everybody wants to go out running when there’s ice and it’s cold and it gets cloudy. So that kind of influences a lot of people’s mentalities about you’re not just going for walks every day or you’re not riding your bike, because up here, you can’t really do all of that.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Okay. So another myth would be carbs are going to make you gain weight, because we think of the holidays as being associated with all these carbs. We think of the pies, the stuffing, all the loaded potatoes, right? It’s full of starches, full of carbs.

Chuck Gaidica:
The can of whipped cream that I could just shoot. No, sorry, that was just me having a moment.

Shanthi Appelö:
My dogs know the sound of that. If they hear… I don’t know, that was a terrible.

Chuck Gaidica:
Mine does too, yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Run.

Chuck Gaidica:
Right.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
So why is that a myth though? Because all those things you just mentioned, if I’m loading up on pumpkin pie with whipped cream and it’s filled with carbs, I know there’s fat so that’s another component of that, but come on, all the stuffing, the gravy, all the stuff, the bread, the rolls, all that, you’re telling me that I shouldn’t worry about the carbs?

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s not necessarily the carbs that are making you gain weight. And I can tell you where I believe part of this myth is coming from-

Chuck Gaidica:
Okay.

Shanthi Appelö:
And that is that low carb diets, we see over and over again that they cause weight loss. That’s like people go on a low carb diet and they’re so much lighter. And part of that is because we have the storage form of carbohydrates in our liver. It’s called glycogen. So if we overconsume it, carbohydrates, that’s the storage form, and it lies in our liver. But the thing is it’s bound to water. And so once we start depleting some of that glycogen in our liver, it starts shrinking and we lose a lot of water weight. So it’s not necessarily true weight.
And people who are doing low carb diets eventually will lose weight because oftentimes when you cut down on carbohydrates, you’re also cutting down on calories. So kind of the take home message here is that it’s not really carbohydrates that are making you gain weight, it’s just that oftentimes the serving sizes associated with carbohydrates tend to be larger, especially when we eat pasta, when we eat rolls. It adds up really quickly and in that way, the excessive calories can make you gain weight, but it’s not carbs in themselves, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, that’s really interesting. And we do see in our own lives, people we know, and it’s all anecdotal, but I think there have been studies too that there’s this boomerang effect. You cut way down on carbs, and it’s a very difficult thing over time to stick with for many people.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes.

Chuck Gaidica:
And then all of a sudden, not only does the weight come back, it’s kind of like a tsunami. It can really come back.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. And that doesn’t make you feel good either. And I think, again, we mentioned this in the beginning, but a lot of taking care of yourself and approaching food in a healthy way during the holiday relates to your emotional health more so than only your weight.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I’m going to tell you that when it gets to be about October, maybe it’s in September, I have a psychological thing that I’ve never been able to prove, but I think I’m a bit like a squirrel, Shanthi, and I can tell that my body is starting to get ready for colder air. Now I don’t gain a lot of weight, but if I don’t increase my activity, I’m not even eating holiday food yet or none of that, so I have this idea that as I head from the beginning of fall toward the holidays, it’s just a fait accompli, I’m going to gain some weight. I just have to either work out more, go for longer walks. Am I wrong? Is that just in my mind that I think I’m a squirrel, I’m saving up for the holidays?

Shanthi Appelö:
I have a hard time-

Chuck Gaidica:
Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. Slap me. Tell me.

Shanthi Appelö:
Speaking to that. But there is something about colder weather, not moving as much, not being as active.

Chuck Gaidica:
So it’s not just me? But where I’m going with this is, “Well, that’s my own thing.” And you’re laughing, but it’s true. That’s the way I think when I get to fall. And here we are on this countdown to the holidays. So one of the myths, do we all typically gain weight? You’ve kind of already touched on it, but is that a myth, or is it a fact?

Shanthi Appelö:
Not as many people gain weight during the holidays as we think. But I mean, you can definitely experience some holiday bloat and things like that, but really, when it comes down to it, the weight gain during the holidays really isn’t that much. It’s just about when it comes to year after year, after that one holiday, it doesn’t come off. And so it stacks up over time.

Chuck Gaidica:
Okay. What’s another one? What’s another myth that we should be dealing with?

Shanthi Appelö:
I think when it comes to the holidays, we spend a lot of time with family, with friends, celebrations. So oftentimes that happens late at night. And I think there’s this myth out there that late night eating will cause weight gain.

Chuck Gaidica:
It doesn’t?

Shanthi Appelö:
It doesn’t.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wait. What’s with all this fasting stuff? Stop after 7 o’clock and don’t eat for 12 hours.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, right. Okay. So a lot of people find themselves being really snacky at night, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Oh yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. It’s when you’ve calmed down from the day, it’s when you are kind of relaxing more. Maybe you’re watching a TV show, maybe you’re gathered with your loved ones. And so I’m going to take this back a little bit to our intuitive eating episode.

Chuck Gaidica:
Which was great, yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think something that we talked so much about in that episode was how restriction leads to overeating. For some people, that means a binge. For some people, that means just overeating in general. But late night eating, if you find yourself snacking a lot at night, can often be because you just didn’t eat enough during the day, and maybe you didn’t satisfy your body’s needs during the day. And so then maybe you’re a little bit too hungry at night, and then you find yourself overdoing it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, that kind of relates to what you were saying about skipping meals leading up to your big holiday meal, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
That you’re not feeling satiated through the day, and then all of a sudden you grab a bag of chips and before you know it, they’re gone.

Shanthi Appelö:
Right. So I think with that, think about how you’re approaching your day. Are you getting enough protein throughout the day to keep your belly full? Are you getting enough of those hardy carbohydrates to keep your energy level up? But also, I think, explore a little bit what’s going on late at night, is it boredom? Is it a habit? But ultimately, yeah, I would look at what the whole day looks like for you and why you might find yourself overeating at night.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I know that a lot of people have this, I kind of do at times. In my life, I’ve gone through an emotional eating. Things either go too right, more likely too wrong, and then I’m right for the cookies. But I think that a lot of times at night, that’s also not only you’re calming down, or in some cases the kids have gone to bed and you’ve got your free time, but when you’re going to stream an hour and a half movie or something, that’s the time where you may grab the chips. And my wife and I, we have different styles. I’ll grab a bag and she’ll grab a bowl, and it’s the same exact stuff, but she’ll just take her little handful and put it in there, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I don’t even relate to the concept, but that’s the way that she’s able to manage those kinds of things at night, which for her, the system works great.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. I think different things work for different folks. Different strokes for different folks.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
But yeah, there’s a lot to the psychology of why we choose the things we do and why we act in certain ways around food. But I think the best thing is to kind of explore within yourself and really understand why you are doing those things that you might not want to be doing.

Chuck Gaidica:
So as we start to approach the holidays, and they’re coming at us like a freight train, talk about the idea that if you’re self-aware and you know that you struggle with food and that you do kind of worry about weight gain, what are the things that we can do healthfully that can get us not only through the holidays, but allows us to have a piece of apple pie, or allows us to have the things that somehow our brain is telling us, “Oh-uh, that’s a bad thing,” but to healthfully get through the holidays where we feel good?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So I think three things here. One is that if you feel comfortable talking to your family about your struggles, your family and friends, the people that are going to be around you, and just talk to them about how they can best support you through the time. So for example, if you notice that someone in your family is much of a food pusher, address that in a really respectful way. “Hey, I know that you spend so much time with this food. It’s really special to me, and I know that it’s really special to you when we consume it, but sometimes it makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable and I feel pushed to have these foods. Inside of me, it makes me feel anxious to feel like I have to eat all these foods.” Whatever that conversation looks like for you, if you feel comfortable having it. I think that’s one thing.
The second thing is to approach your holiday meals with mindfulness. This is something we’ve talked about so many times, but it rings true because it kind of marries with intuitive eating here. If you’re not able to enjoy your food, you might go back to it later and overdo it. So taking your time with each bite, tasting everything. I love kind of taking a bite to something, especially if it’s something like really unique and special around the holidays. I’m like, “Wow, this tastes like rosemary, this has a nice mouth feel.” And just kind of thinking about the food and how good it tastes and taking your time, chewing thoroughly, and all of those kind of things. And so the third thing is something that I noticed when I was at a wedding recently, and they had an open bar, and they had all this wine and beer and all these things, but they also had a cooler full of sparkling water of all these different flavors. We all know I’m a sparkling water girl. Not everyone is a sparkling water person.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’ve got one right here right now.

Shanthi Appelö:
Ooh, what was that, pomplamoose?

Chuck Gaidica:
That is pomplamoose, yeah. Good guess. That’s it. That’s what it is.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So something that I noticed is that, I and along with other guests felt it was okay to have my two glasses of wine throughout the evening because I had so many options for delicious sparkling water. So it wasn’t like, “Okay, I’m having wine or water.” Water is fine, but sometimes it feels a little boring when you’re at a festive place. And so my point with that is having options that taste good, that are really healthy, that feel like you can gravitate towards if you need to have those kind of snacky things on the side, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And you use that phrase again, and I know we dug into it during that episode on intuitive eating. What is it? Because it is a phrase that gets bandied around a little bit, but for everybody who may want to go back, and oftentimes people do want to go back and get a previous episode, what is the definition of intuitive eating?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. It’s this self-care framework around food where you are avoiding restriction. You’re giving your body the ability to recognize its cravings and satisfy those cravings. You are also giving yourself self-care with gentle nutrition, which means that you’re feeding your body things that it needs and things that are going to make it feel good, essentially. So there are those 10 principles that we talked about.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, no.

Shanthi Appelö:
We don’t have to get into all of those, but essentially it’s allowing yourself unconditional approval to eat these foods that you want to have.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I think that that’s so important because so many of these myths that you were talking about are framed around the idea that we’re going to feel bad, we’re going to have maybe a bad evening after we sit down and realize we over indulged on the pie of some kind. So this idea of giving yourself some grace and practicing intuitive eating so that you know have permission to indulge a little bit here and there, it’s Thanksgiving, it’s Christmas, it’s Hanukkah, whatever’s going on, that you can indeed do that and healthfully get through that period. Because just to live for January 1st or the next Monday to start your new diet, well, I mean, you don’t have to wait. You can practice this all year long.

Shanthi Appelö:
Right. It’s this idea that you don’t have to put the stress on yourself, that restriction isn’t going to cost overeating, right? That’s the main goal here, because a lot of these myths, everything that we’ve talked about essentially has to do with some form of restriction, doesn’t it?

Chuck Gaidica:
Right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And a lot of that is self-imposed. Well, this has all been good stuff. I appreciate it. And we will encourage people, we’ve got so many great episodes with Shanthi and many other guests. What are we up to? 118 is our episode count now. So always a pleasure to see you, and I wish you the best for the holidays, and thanks for jumping on with us today.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thank you, Chuck. See you next time.

Chuck Gaidica:
Great. I’ll look forward to it. Shanthi Appelö’s a registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and we want to thank you for listening to a Healthier Michigan podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show, you want to know more, you can go online. You can check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast, or you can leave us a review or rating on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. You can get new episodes, all of our previous episodes on your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to subscribe to us as well on Apple Podcast or Spotify or your favorite podcast app because when you go out for that walk, rain or shine, snow or sleet, just like people who deliver the mail, you can take us with you. I’m Chuck Gaidica. Be well.