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Holiday Eating


Celebrate but don't go overboard.
Plan ahead to avoid holiday overeating and weight gain.
The holiday eating frenzy has started! Halloween brought a sugar-packed caloric jump start to the holiday celebrations, and with all that candy still around and more seasonal treats to come, it’s not easy to eat healthy during the holiday seasons. With a little pre-planning and creativity, those traditional and often calorie-dense, fattening, foods will not lead to a hefty holiday weight gain. Here are some tips to help you eat healthy during the holiday seasons.

Prepare ahead of time. Avoid eating a lot of high-calorie items at holiday celebrations, such as processed meats, fried foods, cream-based soups, heavy casseroles, and rich desserts. Fill up on lighter foods like lean meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables. When attending potluck events, bring a healthy dish so that you and other guests will have an alternative if the other dishes served are high in fat and calories.

Do not arrive hungry! Arriving hungry is a quick gateway to overeating along with choosing foods you normally wouldn’t select. Never avoid eating during the day to “save” your calories for a large dinner later; it will most likely cause you to eat more overall. Have a healthy snack before heading to the party. You will still be hungry enough to enjoy your favorite holiday foods, but not so hungry that you overeat and choose too many unhealthy options.

Holiday favorites. One of my favorite approaches to holiday eating is to focus on the foods I only get to enjoy on that special day. For me, these include my grandma’s Italian green beans (dripping in oil, onion, and garlic), or my mom’s pecan, macadamia, and chocolate pie, candied sweet potatoes, and salted caramel cheesecake. I skip the bread roll, corn, mashed potatoes. I can get these foods any day of the year. Choose your favorites that you truly only get to have on that holiday.

Fill-up with fiber. Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and contain an abundance of nutrients. Vegetables help you feel satisfied for a longer period of time than most other foods do. Fiber causes your stomach to feel fuller, along with having a better sense of satiety. Eating raw vegetables as snacks, appetizers, and in salads and side dishes is a smart way to fill-up on healthy foods to satisfy your hunger. Try filling half your plate with vegetables at meals.

Healthy Swaps.  Substitute skim milk to decrease (saturated) fat and calorie intake. Consider substituting recipes with lower fat dairy products whenever possible. Replace sour cream with plain Greek yogurt, swap skim, 1% or 2% milk instead of whole milk in recipes. Other swaps include using rolled oats for bread crumbs, cauliflower as substitute for mashed potatoes, spaghetti squash for pasta, pureed low-fat cottage cheese for cream cheese, and even pureed fruit for sugar.

Turkey = lean protein! Turkey is one of the leanest types of meat. Broil, stew, bake, or even grill your meats instead of frying them. Use a rack when cooking the turkey to allow the fat to drip away from the meat. When selecting other meats to prepare, choose leaner cuts when possible, such as loin or round cuts.

Do not try to DIET! The holiday season is one of the most difficult times to try to diet for weight loss. Trying to follow a strict diet when you are not completely committed can cause you to relapse and binge on foods you have eliminated, and thus cause weight gain. Focus more on maintaining your weight over the holidays. You can do this by controlling your portions, getting regular physical exercise, and making healthy food choices.

Alcohol.  A cocktail is like a cupcake. Everything in moderation is an even more difficult mantra to follow during the holidays at parties, gatherings, and events. One standard drink serving is 12 ounces of light beer, 8 ounces of regular beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor or spirits. Savor indulgent drinks (e.g., eggnog) as if they are a dessert. ALWAYS drink water between alcoholic beverages to prevent dehydration. This may also help to curb your appetite, helping to prevent overeating. Also, be choosy with your drink mixes. That is where the calories can add up quickly.

Get active. A busy holiday schedule can easily derail your normal exercise routine. Try to workout early in the morning to avoid schedule conflicts in your day and/or have a backup plan. If you cannot make your normal fitness training session try to include fitness in your holiday traditions: play flag football, go sledding, take a walk to view the holiday lights or go caroling.  

Out of sight. Keeping holiday snacks and treats out of sight drastically improves your odds of not mindlessly consuming them. Keep treats put away in the pantry in opaque containers and on a higher shelf. Freezing treats in individual servings can also improve portion control. You may also want to send to-go containers home with guests after the party packed with leftover treats.

Be realistic. Holidays are centered around family, food, and fun! If you happen to splurge don’t feel guilty. One day will not make or break your nutrition and fitness routine. Stay mindful and aware of making sure that one day doesn’t turn into several. Even if it does, you can always start fresh. Not one day, one weekend, or even one week will completely ruin everything. You can always get back on track. The average holiday season weight gain has been logged at just under two pounds. The goal is to not gain those extra pounds at all, but if you do gain, don’t let those extra pounds stick around year after year.

Here’s to healthy holidays with food and fitness along with family, friends, and fun.

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