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Strategies for Healthy and Tasty Holiday Eating

  • Category: Hospital News
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  • Written By: Christopher Brown
Strategies for Healthy and Tasty Holiday Eating

You’ve made it through Thanksgiving watching what you ate and not gaining weight. Now, you are facing even more holiday parties and family gatherings. It’s a good five weeks before Jan. 2 and a fresh start on your diet.

How do you enjoy the holidays and still keep to a healthy eating regime?

The average person can gain from two to five pounds during the holidays and most of us find it’s really hard to lose those extra pounds come January, says Kimberlee Alvari, registered dietitian and director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital.

The danger comes when you don’t lose those extra pounds, she explains. “Over the years, the 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. “You still can enjoy some of the special dishes you always look forward to, but mix them up with healthier choices so that your plate isn’t loaded down with only high-calorie food,” Alvari says.

“Remember to manage your choices by what you love the most and in portions that leave you just satisfied,” she adds.

Desserts can be made healthier but still delicious, or “eaten in bites — the first bite to enjoy the treat, the second bite to satisfy the selection and the third bite to have it linger in your mind,” Alvari suggests.

Or you can share a dessert with a friend.

It is important to focus on healthy eating during the holidays, but don’t try to lose weight, Alvari warns. “You could set yourself up for failure. It’s better to aim to maintain your pre-Thanksgiving weight and then tackle additional weight loss in the new year.”

“Also, remember that it’s not just the special holiday dinner or party that leads to weight gain, but all the days leading up to the celebrations and the days in-between,” Alvari says. “If you begin the season determined to enjoy yourself and also to avoid excess, you will greet the New Year, happy, satisfied and cheery,” she adds.

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.

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. 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. Exercising first thing in the morning may help start a day of better food selections for the rest of the day.

Limit treats to one small serving a day during the holiday season, such as cookies or a piece of candy or pie.

Treats at work can be managed by going to find 15 to 20 minutes of work and then seeing if you are still interested or have moved on from wanting the treat. 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.”