There are probably lots of things you’ll enjoy this holiday season — time with friends and loved ones, frivolity and merrymaking, maybe even a special gift or two — but most certainly you don’t want to expand your waistline and carry unwanted pounds into the New Year.
Registered dietitian, nutrition communications and wellness consultant and Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics spokesperson Tamara Melton says research indicates that the average weight gain for adults over the holiday season is 1 pound, and it’s unlikely that gain will be lost. “Unfortunately, most adults do not lose that pound during the following months, and therefore those pounds start to add up over the years,” she says. The holidays, says Melton, “really start with Halloween with candy around the house, then the feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas or other holiday celebration meals, then all the parties, ending with New Year’s Eve. In addition to the high-calorie foods these occasions offer, you might also be baking sweets for friends and family. There are many opportunities for not eating as healthy as you might during other times of the year.”
Melton shares some of her favorite recommendations to navigate the perils of the season:
1. Start your day off with a healthy meal: something with fiber, a lean protein and a piece of fruit, which will sustain energy and is a good nutritional investment should things fall apart later in the day.
2. Do the best you can to plan ahead by bringing healthy snacks with you as you run errands and go shopping to help you resist less nutritious temptations.
3. Apply the MyPlate recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy to your holiday eating. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. The other half could be a quarter plate each of a protein like cheese and whole grain crackers, something commonly found at parties. If you are concerned about the availability of healthier choices, bring a nutritious dish to share.
4. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages. It will help satiate you, and it helps when you might be consuming rich drinks like eggnog.
5. Some of the worst holiday eating offenders, Melton says, are the high-fat, sugar-laden desserts and beverages that are available. Choose only the seasonal treats that you really love, like sweet potato or pumpkin pie, or hot apple cider, and don’t pile on the other sweets and indulgences that are available throughout the year.
Beyond the nutritional temptations, Melton counsels that the holidays affect lifestyle with a busier, stressful pace to our already full lives. She recommends including exercise in your holiday schedule to help counter the pressure and calories. With San Antonio’s generally mild winters, Melton encourages brisk walks: “Even 15 minutes a day can be helpful in so many ways.” While it’s not the ideal time of the year to lose weight, Melton says it’s better to focus on maintaining your weight — “Maintaining is better than gaining.”
Other stay-slim tactics that can help guard against the holiday bulge:
1. If you routinely eat out, substitute parties and events for restaurant meals during the holidays.
2. Partner with a buddy — you’ll make better choices if you know you’ll need to be accountable.
3. Stock your refrigerator, pantry and freezer with calorie-controlled meals for when you are too busy to cook.
4. Don‘t arrive hungry to parties. If you’ve eaten something, you won’t be so eager to overindulge.
5. When you choose what to consume, slow down your chewing so you can savor the flavor of each bite.
6. Don’t be undone by the after-party. Leftovers make it easy to binge. Instead, on the day after holiday events, get out and do something you enjoy rather than raiding the refrigerator.
7. Scope out the buffet to see what food offerings are available before you start to aimlessly load your plate.
8. For a high-calorie cocktail substitute, try a wine spritzer — cut white wine with club soda.
9. Make holiday events about connecting with people and not so much about mindless eating. If you are busy conversing and being in the moment, you are less likely to nibble endlessly.
Consider your choices and slash calories with these simple swaps:
Caloric information from Supertracker.usda.gov
The holidays are about revelry and celebration, so enjoy yourself, but in moderation. If you do make a few mistakes, cut yourself some slack, says Melton: “Don’t beat yourself up if you overeat. The next day, the next meal is another chance to be healthy.”
For more ideas on healthful eating visit the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics website, EatRight.org.