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Healthy Eating Strategies this Holiday Season

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 health issues.

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 high-calorie food.”

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.”