Posted on Nov 29, 2019, 2 p.m.
For some of us with more intricate schedules the holiday season has begun (Halloween through New Year’s Day). With all the hussle and bussle it can be easy to lose track of health plans and fall into a pattern of convenience, even though we know it is not always the most healthy choice.
On average most Americans are estimated to gain between 1-5 pounds over the holiday season with no significant loss by spring time. This may seems small but it adds up over the years, over the course of 5 years this could be 25 pounds.
"For some people, it may seem like a contradiction to be able to enjoy the holidays and maintain a healthy weight, but it's not," says Jennifer Ventrelle, MS, RD, a dietitian and lifestyle program director for the Rush University Prevention Center. "By making a few tweaks to some of your traditions and behavior, you can participate fully in the holidays while staying healthy."
"The first part of your new tradition is a change in mindset," says Ventrelle. "We have to lose the notion that we can worry about our health after the holidays are over. Taking a healthy approach throughout the holidays will not only make you feel good, you'll be able to avoid that yearly accumulation of extra pounds that can really start to cause problems with your long-term health."
"People seem to forget that it’s all about the number of calories that you bring into your body balanced with the number that you use," Ventrelle says. "Your new tradition is to both be careful about what you eat and get daily physical activity to burn off those calories."
Looking for lower calorie alternatives to make healthful food swaps to your traditional dishes may help:
- Look for foods flavored with herbs and spices rather than high fat flavoring choice such as oils, margarine, or mayonnaise.
- Select food choices that are steamed, baked, or broiled over those that are fried.
- Rather than foods that are sauteed in oil, opt for those cooked in a broth.
- Try eating those veggies raw, or look for low-fat/fat-free salad dressings.
- Rather than starchy mashed potatoes and gravy look for low fat vegetable dishes with light dressings.
- Whenever possible choose whole foods over processed food choices.
- Stick with water or club soda over eggnog and hot cocoa.
Keep in mind that alcohol and sweet drinks have a surprising amount of calories in them per single serving, and try to avoid consuming all those empty calories from high calorie foods with little nutritional value such as candy, alcohol, soda/pop, and other sweet drinks such as lemonade, sweetened tea, and sweetened juices.
"You should never go to a holiday event hungry," says Ventrelle. "Eat a healthy snack before you go. Choose something with a little fiber and protein, such as a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, a bowl of high fiber cereal, an apple with peanut butter, or a small serving of peanut butter or cheese on whole grain crackers."
Staying hydrated is important, sometimes people can forget this when they get busy. Making sure that you get enough water can help you to avoid making some less healthy food choices, it’s a good idea when attending a gathering/function to choose a low calorie drink or water to keep from overeating, which can easily been done with some of the elaborate spreads that are laid out.
“A low-calorie drink is the perfect thing to keep your hands and mouth busy," says Ventrelle. "It may also keep your stomach feeling more satisfied, because the brain often doesn't distinguish between hunger and thirst. You may be feeling hungry when your body is actually thirsty."
When it comes to meals practicing mindful eating habits can really help. Don’t overload your plate, keep portions sizes in mind, and try slowing down how fast you eat, make meals more leisurely and really chew the food before you swallow. This will allow you to get maximum enjoyment from the food, help digestion, and let you spend more time with the company of your friends and family.
"It takes 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that the stomach is full," says Ventrelle. "If you take your time at a meal, you're more likely to eat less. It’s not just what you eat, its how much you eat. You can enjoy your favorite high calorie foods, just in smaller portions. As a host you can make things easier for your guests by having portions already cut. Mini portions let your guests sample a number of options. Eat small meals with fewer calories the day of a holiday event."
If you are not sure what you will be eating at a holiday event you can always bring a dish to share. Most people don’t mind when a dish is brought to share, this way you know what you are eating. Some healthier choices can include a fresh fruit platter, a fresh veggie platter with a low-fat/fat-free dip, baked chips with salsa, whole-grain pita chips with hummus, and a fresh salad with a low-fat/fat-free dressing.
This can also be a hard thing to do with the busy schedule, but make sure that you balance your calorie intake with some physical activity will make good use of those extra calories. Maybe try taking a walk and enjoy spending some time catching up with a person you haven’t seen in a long time, or if there’s snow you can make it fun and build a snowman, and skating whether it be on ice or in a roller rink is a fun activity that everyone can enjoy that may inspire memories and create a tradition.
"I think that walking is one of the easiest ways to increase your physical activity," says Ventrelle. "You can make this a new tradition with you family to take a walk after a meal. It doesn't require equipment and it's something you can do with the whole family."
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement