Carnival is upon us — ready or not — as is the continuation of the holiday binge that began around Halloween. Everyone sees it coming: it began as an extra slice of pie (or three) while cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and morphed into a half-gallon of eggnog daiquiri right before Christmas, and will finally denigrate into a case of beer on the parade route Endymion Saturday, Bacchus Sunday and Orpheus Monday, and lead to profound Ash Wednesday guilt when looking back on the caloric choices made over the last four months.
Julie Fortenberry, a wellness dietitian at Touro Hospital, sees this gastronomic saga play out every year. At a time when the rest of the country has moved on to the contrition of New Year’s resolutions, New Orleans is just revving up for Mardi Gras season.
“The average six weeks of holidays (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s) becomes 12 weeks in New Orleans including Carnival season,” says Fortenberry. “That’s three months. If the average person gains 5 lbs. through the holidays, that’s 10 lbs. through Mardi Gras — that’s a lot.”
Fortenberry finds that her clients put off resolutions to eat right and lose weight until after the overindulgence of Carnival, but warns that this is not a healthy solution.
“So many people overcompensate for the damage done from Carnival. They over-train, under-eat and cut out entire food groups.”
Rather than punish themselves for relishing all of Carnival’s treats (such as king cake-flavored everything), or abstaining from festivities and the calories tethered to the
fun, Fortenberry suggests revelers moderate their caloric intake by snacking smart and finding ways to sneak in exercise during Mardi Gras season. There are good calories and bad, she says, and paying attention to what is consumed during hours-long parade watching is essential to fending off unwanted pounds. She explains that calories represent how much energy is in the food or drink that’s being consumed.
“Anything that’s beneficial to your body and provides nutrients, proteins or good fats, like avocado, chicken, veggies or fruit” is a source of good calories, she says, while foods that “give you calories but don’t provide any benefits, like soda, chips, alcohol and king cake” are bad calories. If king cake had some fiber in it, she muses, it could slide into the “good” category. Maybe. But she stresses that focusing on calories is not the right approach to moderating food intake. It’s important to enjoy the season, but to establish some balance between binging on fried foods and booze and eating right.
Packing snacks and lunch ahead of time is key. If you arrive at the parade route fully stocked, you’re less likely to gorge on cotton candy and hot dogs. She advises snacking smart — finger foods like cheese sticks, protein bars, dried nuts, peanut butter crackers and even beef jerky will keep blood sugar stable, and meal options should involve
plenty of protein.
“Sandwiches on your bread of choice, loaded up with lots of lean meat, lettuce, tomato and avocado, are easy to make and will hold well in an ice chest,” she says. Fortenberry even makes the case for fried chicken: “A chicken breast is full of nutrients and protein,
but I would try to avoid the skin.”
Skipping food to drink more calories (in the form of adult beverages) is unwise because alcohol is full of those empty calories Fortenberry warned about. She advises those who
chose to imbibe to be smart about it.
“Choose something that you can sip on and not drink a ton of. Be careful with mixers because they have lots of sugars. Sparkling waters can have lots of sugar too. Avoid juices, and make sure you drink tons of water. A general rule is one drink, two waters.”
Fortenberry also suggests keeping as active as possible during Mardi Gras.
“Take the scenic route (when walking to your destination), dance, move! Don’t just sit around on your ladder,” she says. “Wear your pedometer or tracking device to see how many steps you can get. Use social media to share your progress and stay motivated.”
Equally as important as moderation is determination to get back into a steady eating plan and exercise after Carnival is over. February 28 will be epic, but on March 1, start fresh, and commit to an achievable goal immediately, such as losing two pounds by March 28. But, until then, enjoy the festivities. After all, everywhere else in the
world, it’s just another Tuesday.