By Rivka Kulik
Welcome to the holiday season! As many of us are now back to seeing family and friends, this may mean in-person parties. Even those who are still isolating may join via video and enjoy the food in their own homes. But big holiday parties may lead to unhealthy choices.
Older adults particularly need to be cognizant since eating healthy positively impacts quality of life. As a person ages, the body’s needs change, and an older person will feel the effect of poor eating. Older adults may be prone to issues with digestion. Additionally, many older adults face medical challenges that require specific diets and the avoidance of certain foods.
Understandably, many of us will fall into the trap of eating some of the wrong things and/or overeating. Let’s aim to minimize this. Here are some tips:
Older adults are advised to consume fiber-rich food and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Although produce is considered a safe and wise choice, those with certain conditions or on special diets may need to avoid specific types of produce.
Even those who take medication for their conditions should not rely on medication alone and should be aware of which foods will affect their conditions positively or negatively.
Tell your hosts or anyone who is preparing food for you about your food preferences and choices. When possible, be in control and prepare the food yourself. If you have a home health aide, then tell the aide what to prepare. Be brave and bring along your own food or eat before you go.
Take a smaller plate and fill that up. Don’t feel like you have to finish everything on your plate. If you see food that you crave, then satisfy your eyes and stomach with just a taste.
Fill yourself up with water. This may prevent you from filling up with harmful calories. Additionally, dehydration is a serious risk for older adults as advanced age comes a decrease in thirst.
Practice mindful eating: Be aware of what you eat, eat slowly, pay attention to the colors and textures of the various foods as you see them and put them in your mouth. Take small bites, then chew slowly until the food is liquified.
Social eating often has a person continuing to eat even when full or not hungry just because everyone else is eating. Be aware of that and focus on the company.
Dysphagia, (difficulty swallowing) is more prevalent in older adults. Do not talk while you have food in your mouth.
Once you are full, stop eating. Older adults who have a hard time falling asleep will find that being full, especially in the evenings, can exacerbate their insomnia.
It is important to stick to a food schedule, especially individuals taking medications. Even though you’ll be at a party or restaurant, don’t avoid eating earlier in the day thinking that you will be eating more later.
Making healthy choices doesn’t have to be the main event of the holidays, but small plan-ahead tips can help make those choices easier. At the end of the day, the holidays are about enjoying yourself and the time with people you love.