Healthy Eating for the Holidays

Family celebrating Thanksgiving. On the table is a traditional roasted turkey with side dishes

Holidays don’t mean binge! From Nov. 28 – Jan. 1, food seems to be everywhere, making it challenging to maintain self -control, healthful eating and an exercise routine. Though it is challenging, it is not impossible! Go into this holiday season prepared and ready to make good choices with these tips:

  • Healthy eating does not mean complete restriction. Focus on maintaining your weight rather than strict abstinence for weight loss. Make realistic goals for yourself to maintain weight, so you can enjoy your time with friends and family, and enjoy foods you don’t have often.
  • To help maintain your weight, continue your regular schedule and dietary habits, and focus on “indulging” only 1-3 times during the holiday season as calories on these days add up quickly! Anticipation of losing weight or dieting after the new year can lead to binge-eating over the holidays.
  • Prioritize your favorite foods. The more variety we are presented with, the more we tend to eat. Holiday meals are not an all-you-can-eat buffet! Pick three or four of your absolute favorite foods at holiday events and forgo the rest.  If you know you have multiple events to attend, pick one to “splurge” at and scale back at the others.
  • Log your food.  A good healthy habit is to record everything you eat. This practice will increase mindfulness of choices you make and help you keep tabs on your portion sizes. In addition, track your physical activity. Try to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.
  • Appetizers. Try to pick vegetables for appetizers –especially broccoli or cauliflower because they are high in fiber. Choose healthier dips like hummus, or bring a Greek yogurt-based dip instead of sour cream. Limit cheese, sauces, mayonnaise and meat appetizers.
  • Use a plate. Try to eat off of a plate (the smaller the better!) to minimize mindless eating while cooking, socializing or watching TV. A plate helps you to keep track of your portions instead of just popping food into your mouth. Do not go back for seconds (especially for appetizers!)
  • Avoid loading your plate with all carbohydrates, such as corn, potatoes, squash, roll/biscuit and stuffing. Build a balanced plate with vegetables, fruits, grains and protein.
  • Portion control is literally in your hands!  Choose at least two fist-sized portions of vegetables, one fist-sized portion of a carbohydrate and one palm-sized portion of lean protein. Keep high calorie condiments and sauces on the side.
  • Mind your liquids. Drink lots of water – at least eight, 8-oz.cups of water a day. If drinking alcohol, drink in moderation – one drink for women, two drinks for men.  Drink club soda or sparkling water rather than soda. Flavor your drinks with lemon or lime rather than sugar. Use low-fat or skim milk in dairy-based drinks.
  •  Be creative with your leftovers. Don’t eat the same high-calorie meal every day for a week. Try using leftovers to make sandwiches or a soup. Freeze leftovers to use throughout the winter.
  • Be active. Inactivity accompanied by overeating leads directly to weight gain. Do some type of physical activity on your own the morning of your holiday event. Try to do another physical activity with your family to help take your mind off food, burn calories and bond with your loved ones. Try a 5K run or walk with your coworkers or friends.
  • Skipping meals does not equal skipping calories. People often skip breakfast before a holiday event, which results in rushed mindless eating at the holiday meal. Eat a breakfast with fiber, protein and healthy fats to fill you up so you don’t overeat later in the day. Try a cup of Greek yogurt with granola and berries, or oatmeal with walnuts and a hard-boiled egg.
  • Practice mindful eating. Limit distractions during mealtime. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Recognize your body’s fullness signals. Take a few deep breaths before you start eating to relax and keep your attention on your plate.
  • Bring a healthy dish to share. Often times, people tend to be heavy –handed while making foods for holiday parties. Bring your own healthy dish to share to guarantee that you’ll have something to eat to align with your goals of limiting calories.
  • Modify your recipes. You can cut down the calories of most recipes by making simple substitutions. When baking, replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana or pumpkin puree; use ¾ of ½ the amount of sugar that is called for; or replace sugar with a low-calorie substitute such as stevia, erythritol or xylitol. When cooking, use extra herbs and spices to flavor a dish instead of butter; bake, steam, air-fry or grill instead of frying in oil; use low-fat milk or skim milk instead of heavy cream; and use Greek yogurt instead of cream cheese, sour cream or mayonnaise.
  • Practice self-care. You know yourself best. Be assertive – don’t feel as though you have to eat everything that is offered to you. Don’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate; when you feel full, STOP eating. Get proper rest – sleep deprivation is quite common during the holidays. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep leads to increased hunger and decreased physical activity.
  • Maintain perspective. One day of overeating won’t make or break your plan and goals. It takes days of overeating to gain weight. Don’t throw in the towel and fall into bad habits – go back to your usual eating plan. Don’t let this slip become an avalanche – if you overindulge, accept it and move on to making better choices. Don’t prolong unhealthy habits. Avoid the “I’ll start tomorrow mindset”; set limits and stick to your goals. Find someone with similar goals and create a buddy system! Have a meal plan that includes healthy snacks.

Written by Anna Casaceli RD, LDN and Maria Monterotti RD, LDN.

Metz Culinary at Milford Regional Medical Center.

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