Why should anyone dread the holidays, for fear that they’ll undo all the good they’ve accomplished over the year? You don’t hear people saying that they typically gain weight over the summer, but the average American gains weight over the fall holidays: somehow begins overeating, giving in to temptation at Halloween, continuing through Thanksgiving and on through the December holidays all the way through early January. Not this year! Instead of dreading the upcoming season, savor your holidays, not as a time to eat all you can, but as a time to connect and to stay close to loved ones, family and friends, new and old. Use these strategies to cope with the inevitable overload that’s bound to be presented to you.
1. Host the Party
: How to stay in control of food choices at parties? Host them yourself! Make the party or family meal more delicious and less unhealthy. Why equate holiday meals with excessive calories…it doesn’t have to be that way if you really care to make them better. The average Thanksgiving dinner has 3,500 calories, so it gives you plenty of food for thought. Lighten up and substitute and modify your recipes by modifying ingredients. Use nonfat milk or nonfat evaporated milk instead of cream or half-and-half; instead of chocolate chips, use dried fruit like cranberries or raisins. Reduce the amount of fat in a recipe: if the recipe calls for ½ cup of oil, use ¼ cup, plus ¼-cup fruit puree or unsweetened applesauce. This works great in quick breads, cookies, or cakes: yeast breads and piecrusts need a precise balance of ingredients, so experiment to see if you get acceptable results.
2. Schedule Self Time
: Always schedule time for you during the holidays…don’t skimp on self-time, once weekly works best. Stress plays a big part in how you feel about yourself—when you’re overwhelmed by dates and obligations it’s easy to turn to food to assuage the anxiety. Make it a point to schedule a weekly event that’s just for you and it doesn’t have mean spending a lot of time or money. Enjoy a weekly Saturday morning manicure; take a spinning class; make Sunday afternoons yours alone with a bubble bath and a half-hour nap.
3. Plan the Day
: Take the Edge Off
: Never starve yourself beforehand…that’s a recipe for disaster…you’ll show up grumpy and that’s no fun. Are you going out to dinner? To a party where you know you’ll be served some “I have to have some” favorites? I think it’s fine to indulge occasionally, and that doesn’t mean daily, even weekly, it means for special occasions. And portion size makes all the difference…if it’s really special then take a small portion, and savor it. Treat the holiday meal as you would any other…and don’t overeat. Eat to enjoy, to taste, not to gorge, and remember—these foods are not “good” or “bad”, they may be fatty, or sugary…and just pretty high in calories. Go to the party to enjoy the people, the celebration, and celebrate your good health.
4. Stay hydrated But Watch the Calories
: Liquid calories are sneaky saboteurs: they don’t make a dent in your appetite, and calories pile up quickly. Start the evening with a glass of water; end the evening with one too. One vodka and soda, depending on the pour, has about 200 calories—a generous glass of wine could have the same. One bottle of regular beer has about 150. Regular soda has 150 calories in 12 ounces, as does juice, even “100%” fruit juice. Order mixed drinks with diet or club soda, not juice or regular soda. Just say ‘no’ go any fruity, creamy or ‘colada’- type drinks, typically full of sugar and calories. Skip fruit punches; besides being high in calories, they are usually spiked with plenty of alcohol.
5. Stay Active
: Take it for granted that you’ll include your usual activity throughout the holiday season. To accommodate some extra calories, add a few minutes to your daily walk; do jumping jacks when you get out of bed, and take time to stretch and breathe every day. Bring your family on a group walk after dinner.
6. Live It, Don’t Diet
: I take my “diet” wherever I go, my diet is just the way I usually eat, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it behind when I go on vacation, or out to dinner, or to a party. No, I live my diet, as it’s defined in the dictionary (as a noun, instead of a verb). At a cocktail party, if they are passing a fried tidbit or cheesy morsel, I’ll just politely decline and move on to the fresh veggie tray, skip the dip, find some cocktail shrimp or healthier option, and enjoy myself. I carry a wine glass full of club soda and lime, and keep sipping. And, I pay attention to how I’m feeling, and don’t keep eating when I’m full.
7. Thank You
. Your best tip for surviving the holidays without gaining weight is learning how to say “no” gracefully, and that means saying “no thank you, but thanks for offering”. Your holidays will be much lighter when you exercise your choice in what you eat, and how much you eat.
Registered and licensed dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, CDE, is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally
– a book intended to liberate serial dieters and make living healthfully and weight-wise intuitive and instinctual over the long term. Susan also serves as the Resident Nutrition Expert for www.HealthyWage.com, which empowers healthy living through incentives, social support, goal-setting and technology. She may be reached online at www.SusanBurkeMarch.com.