It’s that time of year again: friends, family, and traditions, many of which include food. As a dietitian, I often hear clients dreading the holidays because they worry about “temptations” that could lead to weight gain. Some spend the holidays stressed, riddled with guilt in the new year if they “caved.” Others take on the “I’ll enjoy it all and worry about it later” attitude.
Holiday eating doesn’t need to be so polarized. You can enjoy the holidays without guilt, regret, or overdoing it. Here are some tips I use to help me practice good nutrition and still enjoy the holiday season.
Plan Ahead for Parties
Oftentimes, the holidays mean family parties, work parties, church parties, and other big dinners. I love parties and would never want someone to miss out because of their fear of tempting foods. That being said, a little planning can help you make healthier choices.
First, don’t fast beforehand. This can lead to excessive hunger, which then leads to overeating. Skipping 500 calories at lunch may lead you to eat an extra 1,000 calories or more later on. Instead, have a light lunch and a low-calorie, fiber-rich snack beforehand (like carrots). The fiber will help you feel full and keep you from overeating.
Second, bring a healthy option with you. Instead of sampling every dish at the party, pick two or three of your favorite foods to try and bring a healthy option, like a veggie platter, to share. Before you go for more, check in with your body. Are you really hungry, or just in close proximity to food?
Lastly, drink mostly water. Eggnog, hot chocolate, wine, and other holiday drinks contain many calories, without offering much satiety. Pick a few times during the season to enjoy non-water beverages and stick to water the other times.
Consider Non-food Gifts
I don’t want to demonize food gifts because I personally love to share treats with others, but when 30 neighbors drop off sugary treats, it can often lead to mindlessly overeating cookies just because they’re sitting in your kitchen. My neighborhood does a “Sub for Santa” instead of neighborhood gifts. This means no excessive treats, and we are helping children in need. Find what works for you and your friends/neighbors, but try thinking outside of the (chocolate) box.
Sticking to your exercise routine could help you fight holiday weight gain. This should be a year-round effort, but sometimes our exercise routines hibernate during the holidays. Make it a priority to exercise. Sign up for a race, put together a family football game, or enjoy the winter sunsets with a walk. It doesn’t have to be intense, but make it a priority to do something active and get your heart rate up every day.
Make Half of Your Plate Vegetables
Always make sure that half of your meal is made up of veggies. This is something I suggest year round, but I really emphasize it during the holidays and at parties. I won’t get into the benefits of vegetables here, but taking this step will provide your body with many nutrients, and help you fill up on fiber-loaded, low-calorie foods to prevent you from overeating.
I’m sure that none of this is new information, but tiny habits and making a big effort to implement them will make a big difference in your holiday experience. By planning ahead, eating lots of vegetables, sharing non-food gifts, and exercising daily, you can enjoy the holidays, savor your favorite foods, and still practice good nutrition.
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