Thanksgiving is past but winning the challenge of healthy holiday eating
is far from over. Christmas, New Year’s and other holiday celebrations
still lie ahead. How can you manage your weight with the many parties
and family dinners that are a part of the season?
Pecan pie, eggnog, cookies and candy are holiday treats that tempt. And
that list doesn’t include the extra potatoes and gravy, stuffing,
rolls with butter, the absolutely delicious desserts and other special
treats that come with the holiday season.
Before you know it, you are adjusting your belt a notch or two. And, in
January when you tackle the problem, you find that losing that extra weight
is much more difficult than anticipated.
The average person can gain from two to five pounds during the holidays
and the danger comes when you don’t lose the extra pounds. Over
the years, weight keeps building, bringing with it the increased risk
of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other problematic
The holidays don’t have to be about denial, says Kimberlee Alvari,
Registered Dietitian and Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington
Hospital. “You can still enjoy some of the special dishes you always
look forward to, but mix them up with some healthier choices so that the
table — and your plate — isn’t loaded down all with
Alvari warns that the holidays are not the time to try to lose weight.
“Don’t be overly ambitious with healthy holiday eating strategies
or you could set yourself up for failure. It probably will be more realistic
to aim to keep your weight at your pre-Thanksgiving level.”
And, she cautions, it’s not just the special holiday itself that
leads to weight gain, but all of the days leading up to the celebrations
and the days in-between.
Alvari suggests some strategies for healthy eating during the holidays:
Plan in advance: When going to a party, decide ahead of time what type of food you’ll
eat and what and how much you’ll drink. Eating a healthy snack before
you leave for the party will help control your appetite and desire for
all the food on display. Ask your host/hostess if you may bring a dish
to the party — one you consider healthy — so there will be
at least one “sure thing” on the table for you.
Eating at the event: Start with lighter appetizers such as raw veggies and salads. Look over
the entire selection before deciding what to eat; otherwise you might
end up overloading your plate since you don’t know what else is
being offered. Select one or two higher-calorie favorites from the buffet
table and then step away so that you aren’t tempted to load up your
plate with other treats.
Drinking at the event: Include your drinks as part of your healthy eating strategy. If you are
watching carbohydrates, think about the carbs in sweet drinks like margaritas,
beer and eggnog. If you are diabetic, it’s critical to monitor your
blood sugar level and to be aware of the effect of alcohol. During the
holiday season: Keep moving so the pounds can’t catch up with you.
Don’t skip regular exercise and add a little more physical activity
to counter the extra calories. Limit treats to one small serving a day
during the holiday season, such as cookies or a piece of candy or pie.
Control temptation by keeping treats out of sight — not on your desk
or in places you frequent. And don’t skip meals to “make room”
for food later in the day. Skipping meals almost always leads to overeating later.
When you cook: Make healthier versions of some traditional holiday appetizers or main
course dishes and seek out new recipes for tasty healthy options. For
example, substitute light and low-fat cream cheese and sour cream for
full-fat ones in recipes. Low-fat and non-fat Greek style yogurt also
is a great substitute. Use olive oil instead of butter to cook. Instead
of chips, cut up pita bread and bake it in the oven. Serve with hummus
for a great low-fat, nutritious treat.
Finally, Alvari suggests using a smaller plate such as a nine-inch plate
instead of the standard 12-inch size. “A smaller plate holds less
food, so you can save 200 – 300 calories by reducing the plate size.
If you are hosting a party, do your guests a favor by using smaller plates.”