Smart, Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays

No matter your goal, maintaining your weight or even trying to lose weight, this time of the year requires diligence.  The many temptations and our busy schedules make for a dangerous combination for unhealthy eating.

As a Registered Dietitian I see first hand the temptations and pitfalls that start at Halloween and go through New Year’s.   Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates overeating.  I remember speaking to a class and when I mentioned that Thanksgiving’s primary focus should not be the food the audience laughed.  Yes, it is true that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of harvest, food and cooperation of a community to prepare for winter.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday and celebrating our many blessings is worthy but we must avoid gluttony.  The other issue is that quickly after Thanksgiving we move into December followed by New Year’s, so there are plenty of parties and family gatherings to continue to tempt us.

Strategies to prevent weight gain:

Prioritize – Make your treats worth it

Last year I celebrated a small Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  One of the advantages was there were not dozens of foods to choose from.  Everyone got one of their favorite dishes and some were decadent, but we did not have a 20-dish Thanksgiving feast.  If you do go to a feast with lots of choices, narrow it down.  Make the meal well balanced; eat from all your food groups — protein, vegetables, starch and fruit.   Most holiday meals are heavy on the starches.  Decide which 1or 2 starches that you want to say yes to and which ones you can skip.  For dessert if you want to try 2 different types, then take small portions of each. You choose which foods are worth the calories and then bypass others.

Do you have too many favorite foods?

If you cannot narrow it down, then make two plates.  Eat one at that meal and then make a plate for the next day with other foods you want.  You will have two meals of favorites but not one overstuffed meal that our body has trouble digesting or one which leaves our blood sugars elevated for hours if diabetic or pre-diabetic.

Bring a Healthy Dish

There are several healthy festive dishes you can take to a party.  Shrimp cocktail, raw vegetables with humus, smoked salmon, and dried fruits artfully arranged with nuts are good party options.  For a dinner party take a green vegetable side dish.  Green beans or Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions is an easy delicious dish.  Caramelize 1-2 onions or 3-4 shallots in olive oil; stir in 1 pound of steamed green beans or Brussels sprouts and 2 tablespoons of almond slivers or walnuts.  For an elegant touch top off the dish with orange or lemon peel.  Make sure to eat a hearty portion of the nutritious food options.

Cut a X into Brussels sprouts bottoms so they cook quicker

Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions a healthy side dish

Avoid skipping meals

During the holidays don’t be tempted to skip meals, which can lead us to becoming overly hungry.  When we become overly hungry we are more likely to make poor food choices, eat too fast and overeat. You should have an appetite before meals but not to the point of “starving”.  Eat reasonably earlier in the day; do not skip meals and eating an apple or 10-15 almonds before going to a party helps control your appetite.

Where you sit or stand matters

Standing and talking by the buffet line or sitting in front of the appetizers makes temptation too easy.  Avoid standing or sitting where you can easily reach the food.  Sit or stand across the room from a buffet table; then you will not be enticed to eat mindlessly while talking. 

Exercise helps to de-stress

During the holidays we often feel stressed by all we have to do.  Exercise is hard to work into our overbooked schedule.  Remember exercise helps reduce our stress and helps us to sleep better, so we actually need it more than ever.  Also remember some exercise is better than none so a 15-minute walk in the morning and another 15-minute walk at lunch are better than completely missing. At family gatherings try some type of physical activity — possibly taking a walk, kicking a soccer ball or playing touch football.

Enjoy the holiday season, and yes, you can have some indulgences but at the next meal get back to your healthy routine.  Follow these tips and you should prevent unwanted pounds.

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