by Liz Friedrich, MPH, RD, LDN
It’s holiday time again! And that means festivities, time with friends and family, and one of life’s greatest pleasures, food. This time of the year, our tables are laden with family favorites, traditional religious and ethnic foods, and tasty holiday confections. But all this wonderful food can be a source of unnecessary stress if you are worried about your weight. The combination of frequent gatherings, social pressures, and mounds of high-fat, high-calorie food makes the holiday season a challenging time to eat healthfully or stick to a weight-loss plan.
Can you enjoy the wonderful culinary pleasures of the holiday season without overindulging in food and drink? Yes, you can, but it will take some effort. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to keep your eating habits on track this time of year. But a little knowledge and a lot of forgiveness will go a long way in helping you deal with holiday temptations. To make it through the holiday season, readjust your thinking and give yourself permission to enjoy some of the pleasures of the season. Losing weight over the holiday season is probably not realistic, especially if you are a social person who goes to lots of holiday gatherings. So instead of trying to lose weight, plan not to gain weight. Enjoy tasty holiday treats, but in small amounts and less often. And don’t beat yourself up if you overdo it. If you can adopt this philosophy, chances are some of the “food stress” you feel will go by the wayside and you’ll enjoy your holiday season more.
The following tips can help keep your eating habits on track during the holidays. If you can embrace even a few of these, you’ll be well on your way to “maintaining, not gaining” as you start the new year.
Arrive at the party satisfied, not famished. Have a small snack before you head out to a holiday event, especially if you know you won’t be eating for a few hours. Eating before you go can ensure you won’t be starving and ready to eat everything in sight when you arrive. Some good snack choices are four ounces of your favorite yogurt, a small piece of cheese, or a handful of nuts.
Make trade-offs. Take a critical look at where you can cut corners every day to save calories. That specialty coffee you enjoy every morning could be loaded with fat and calories. Why not stick with traditional coffee during the holiday season so you won’t feel so guilty about the cookies you eat later in the day? And how about trading your dinner roll with butter for a piece of homemade fudge at your evening party?
Avoid banking calories. Sometimes people fast all day (often referred to as “banking” calories) in anticipation of a big pig-out. This strategy can backfire and result in overeating. Instead of banking calories, continue your normal eating pattern on the day of a big event, but eat a little less at each meal.
Survey the food landscape. Check out the array of food available before you take a single bite. Decide which foods seem most interesting and are worth the calories they contain. Focus on quality, not quantity, and enjoy small amounts of foods you really want to indulge in.
Spend your time socializing. The social interactions of a holiday gathering are more important than the food. Focus on greeting people you know and meeting those you don’t. Chat on the opposite side of the room from the food so you aren’t tempted to nibble the entire evening.
Drop out of the clean plate club. Don’t feel obligated to eat every morsel on your plate. If you leave a few bites behind at every party or holiday meal, the calories you save will really add up.
Eat your calories — don’t drink them. That tasty holiday punch or eggnog can be loaded with calories. For example, a typical four-ounce glass of eggnog has around 175 calories and 19 grams of fat. A cup of cocoa might have as many as 250 calories. Reduce your calorie intake from beverages by drinking water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea and unsweetened, low-fat coffee drinks.
Be the designated driver. Alcoholic drinks, especially those made with sweet mixers or juices, can do in anyone trying to watch his or her weight. A four-ounce margarita has around 180 calories — but does anyone really drink a four-ounce margarita? Probably not! Many party glasses hold 8–12 ounces and can contain 300–500 calories. If you don’t drink alcohol, you’ll save lots of calories, especially if you drink water or diet soda in its place.
If you do drink, try lower-calorie drinks. Small amounts of wine (around 120 calories per 6 ounces) or light beer (around 100 calories per 12 ounces) will help keep your calorie intake from alcohol as low as possible. And sip a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. This will limit the amount of calories you drink and help you stay hydrated.
Last Reviewed on November 8, 2012
Liz Friedrich is a nutrition and health promotion consultant based in North Carolina.
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