The average American gains one pound during the holiday season. It may not sound like much, but people tend to keep the weight they gain over the holidays. Over the years, this accumulated weight may eventually affect your health.
The good news is that with a bit of planning and strategizing, there are ways to have your holiday treats and eat them, too.
Choose what you are going to splurge on
The holidays are a time to really enjoy special family traditions and celebratory foods. Now’s the time to put your focus on items you don’t get other times of the year. For example, if you love your grandma’s stuffing, enjoy a serving of it without guilt and maybe consider passing up the store-bought dinner rolls. The goal is to pick one or two things that are special to you and allow yourself the amount you want to savor without guilt.
Use healthy substitutes
Don’t worry about trying to lighten up foods or recipes that are special to your family. Foods that are less unique or special are the ones to lighten up. For example, instead of a green bean casserole, consider making roasted green beans. Another option is lightening up mashed potatoes with less butter and cream.
Find ways to add veggies
Adding veggies elevates nutrition in food and helps you feel fuller faster. For example, try adding pureed butternut squash into mac and cheese sauce. It has the same orange color as cheese, with a mild taste and creamy texture. Another option is to include salad as part of your holiday spread. Kale, sweet potatoes and pomegranate seeds make for a delightful holiday salad.
Slow down while eating
Slowing down allows you to enjoy your meal more. It helps you appreciate the smell, taste and even the textures of eating. It also gives you time for the sensation of fullness to travel from your stomach to your brain.
Practice portion control
When filling your plate, avoid mounding food onto it. Instead, try and stick with a single layer. It’s also helpful to use the visual guide of filling an average dinner plate with ¼ lean protein, ¼ starch and ½ produce.
Avoid standing next to the food table at parties
Make a point of not standing by food as you socialize with others – especially not by food you tend to overeat. It might also help to make up a few rules for yourself – for example, everything you eat needs to first go on a plate so you avoid counter-to-mouth eating.
Don’t go to a party with an empty stomach
Many people think skipping lunch allows them to eat more at a party later. This strategy often backfires. When you’re overly hungry, you’ll crave higher-calorie foods and eat too fast which leads to overeating. Instead, have a snack within an hour of going to a party so you’re in control of your choices and more selective about what you eat.
Check the buffet or spread at parties before filling your plate
Get the lay of the land before deciding which foods you’re going to enjoy. If you don’t peek at the spread first, you might end up finding something you love after filling your plate and – chances are – you’ll end up going overboard by eating it, too. Planning your plate means you know what’s there so you can work it into your plan.
Bring a healthy dish to share
Many people appreciate having a healthy option during the holidays. A salad or fruit are always appreciated. Another option is a healthy appetizer, such as caprese skewers or marinated shrimp skewers.
Practice mindful eating
When we’re in social settings, it’s easy to get distracted by conversation. Practicing mindful eating and slowing down puts the focus on the food you are eating, so you can better recognize if you’re still hungry or enjoying what you are eating.
Take a walk after eating a big meal
Although walking after a meal likely won’t make a dent in the calories you just consumed, it can help with digestion so you feel more comfortable after eating. Getting outside is also a great stress reliever.
Take care of yourself
The holidays are difficult for many people, making self-care even more important than in normal times. This includes things like exercising, getting enough sleep, drinking water and taking steps to manage stress. All of these things can help you make better decisions about what you’re eating at home or at a party.
Go easy on the alcohol
Alcohol plays a big role in the holidays for a lot of people. Keep in mind that you should stick with one drink per day. A drink equivalent is a 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. glass of wine or 1.5 oz. shot of distilled spirits. As an alternative, try enjoying seltzer water with lime or drink water to stay hydrated.