Holidays are a great time to spend time with family and friends and share some amazing meals. So many of our holiday traditions and family memories center around the food! On average, a person will gain approximately 2 pounds during the holiday season, and many don’t shed it once the season is over. But these celebrations don’t need to mean that we shove aside our healthy nutrition goals and indulge in all rich foods, overeating and all the consequences. Remember, during the holidays the only two things that need to be stuffed are birds and stockings!
PRE-PLAN a healthy holiday season:
- Take time before each social event involving food and drink and think it through—PRE-PLAN. Make a plan and write it down—that creates greater intention.
- Don’t go to a party hungry. Skipping meals during the day puts you in a starvation mode that decreases the calories you will burn and makes you hungrier when you get to your event. Have a low calorie nutritious snack before you go to the party.
- Even if you can’t get in your regular workout because of holiday events, aim for a few shorter periods of physical activity throughout the day. You can even sneak in your workout into your daily life if things are just too hectic. Once the holidays are over you can get back to your regular workouts. Don’t stop exercising completely.
- If your event is a pot-luck, bring healthier, lighter foods such as a veggie platter or fruit salad. You’ll be sure to have something healthy to eat, and your host will likely appreciate this deviation from the usual rich foods. If you are the host/hostess, prepare healthier foods or healthier versions of traditional holiday foods.
- If weight loss is your overall goal, consider a focus on maintaining weight during the holidays rather than weight loss. Weight maintenance is better than weight gain and after all, it is the holiday season.
- Traditions do not always have to be surrounded by food! Create new holiday traditions with your friends and family that get you moving, not just eating. Our family started a Thanksgiving tradition of putting the turkey in the oven then going for a hike prior to the big meal. Start your own non-food focused family tradition—hiking, skiing, snow shoeing or volunteering to help with a meal for the homeless.
- If you eat early, getting outside and active after a big meal will burn calories and get everyone out of the kitchen and away from breaking out the leftovers before they’ve even gotten cold :).
- Plan your wardrobe—wearing form-fitting clothes will make you more aware of when you are full.
- Concentrate on enjoying your friends, relatives and family (the real reason for holiday parties) rather than focusing on food. Have you noticed how hard it is to eat when you’re talking?
- If you’re socializing in the same room as the buffet, stay out of arm’s reach of the table to avoid mindless nibbling. Don’t be the first to go through the buffet line otherwise it may feel a little too natural to load up on seconds just to keep your plate full as everyone else is still on firsts.
- At a buffet, use the smallest plate available. Research shows that the larger the plate, the more will be eaten. A good strategy would be to take several items, sit down, enjoy those, and then determine if you are still hungry.
- Start your meal with low calorie veggies and lean protein (e.g. white meat turkey) then move to the indulgences. Remember the everyday healthy rule of making half your plate vegetables. Roasted root veggies are a great holiday dish.
- Then chose your favorite rich holiday foods! Think about nostalgic holiday foods that you are looking forward to—and leave the foods you can eat anytime of the year (except veggies). And remember, if you don’t love it, it’s not worth it!
- Savor your foods. Fill a plate, sit down, take small bites, put your fork down between bites and chew food slowly. This helps you to enjoy food more, keep track of what you are eating and gives your brain time to register when you are full.
- Remember your health goals. To eat healthier and save calories, skip the fried foods, cut down on the gravies and sauces (have just enough for the flavor), and go heavier on the vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.
- Plan your beverages. Alcohol provides empty calories and is an appetite stimulant. When inhibitions are lowered you may eat more. A good rule is to have a glass of water or club soda between each drink. Good hydration helps with hangovers as well. If you plan to drink, good drink choices include liquor with club soda and ice or a glass of wine. Skip empty calorie, high sugar beverages and mixers.
- Having a (low calorie) beverage in your hand during the evening will lower your calorie count. Think about how hard it is to nibble, talk and drink a beverage at the same time. Water would be the best option of course, and it helps in digestion!
- Leave room for dessert. In trying to balance your meal, you may have smaller portions of usual holiday carb choices (stuffing, potatoes, breads) to leave space for dessert. For pies, pumpkin is lower in sugar than some of the high sugar fruit pies. Consider half portions. Or try the “three bite rule”: take three bites then put the dessert aside for a few minutes. Most likely you won’t come back to it. You’ll discover just a few tastes of a great dessert can be satisfying.
For healthier holiday eating, moderation and planning are the keys. Eat everything that you love in moderation so you don’t feel like you miss out but also don’t feel like you indulged in something that was not worth it.
Be assertive in carrying out your holiday plan. Clarify your goals then ask for support from your friends and family. Don’t allow others to sabotage your plan even though their actions are meant well. Practice the phrase, “It is wonderful, but I couldn’t eat another bite”.
Let go! Let go of the feeling of guilt when you have over indulged. Guilt has no benefit. Don’t let one evening of eating sabotage your entire holiday season. Get over it and get back to your healthy eating plan.
Most important, enjoy your holidays and remember—it’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and New Years that makes you unhealthy, it’s what you eat between New Years and Thanksgiving!
Lea Basch is a registered dietitian and has been in the nutrition industry for over 30 years, most of which she spent at Longmont United Hospital in Boulder, Colorado, where she was one of the founders of the facility’s nutrition program. Longmont’s Planetree philosophy of caring for the body, mind and spirit of patients is very much in line with Lea’s interest in both traditional and alternative therapies for treating chronic illnesses. Gluten-intolerant herself, Lea now focuses much of her time on the latest research and issues relating to gluten-free diets and other food intolerances. She is a diabetes educator and is a Registered Dietitian with the American Dietetic Association. Lea’s lifelong passion has been combining the science of nutrition with the heart that it takes to change lifelong habits.
Lea received her BS and MS in Nutrition and Dietetics at Florida International University and BA in Education at University of Florida. Ask Lea your nutrition questions at Lea@tastefulpantry.com