Eating your way through the holidays

By Susan Strahan

It’s officially the season of cookies and candy canes, of sugarplums and savory pies. But a festive holiday spirit doesn’t mean you have to reach for your pants with the elastic waistband.

Follow these easy tips to keep your diet and exercise on track during the holidays. When the scale reads the same – or something even better – come January, that will really be something to celebrate!

Don’t skip meals to gorge later. “You shouldn’t skip meals to make room for holiday dinners as this may result in over eating,” said Susan Strahan, a clinical dietician and nutritionist at Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center. “It’s especially important to eat breakfast. Studies show that those who eat breakfast tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day. Fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains will satisfy hunger and are lower in calories.”

Watch those portions. “A lot of times, holiday meals can be large, buffet-style meals where people go back for second and third helpings,” Strahan said. “While one may not eat dessert, a common mistake is eating large portions of foods that are perceived as healthy. Even healthy foods have calories and should be eaten in moderation. Starting with small portions and using a smaller plate can help control the amount of food you eat. You can also fill your plate with vegetables and salads before entrees and desserts.”

Watch what you drink. “Punches, eggnog and mixed drinks can have up to 500 calories per cup, which can add up to a lot of empty, extra calories,” Strahan said. “Nonalcoholic eggnog or low-fat versions of eggnog can help cut calories. I also suggest reading labels when buying cider at the store and use skim milk or hot water to make hot chocolate.”

Moderation matters. “Denying yourself your favorite foods during the holidays can lead to stress and emotional turmoil, which in turn can lead to overeating,” Strahan said. “Mindful eating can help people choose foods wisely. When you eat holiday foods with awareness instead of mindlessly grazing, the experience can be much better.

“At parties or gatherings, I recommend staying where food is not constantly in your line of sight,” Strahan said. “And at home, don’t leave a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter.”

Burn off those calories. “Being physically active throughout the entire year is important to maintaining a healthy weight,” Strahan said. “During the holidays, you should take the time to go for a walk and catch up with friends and family, play a sport like basketball with the kids, or even go sledding or ice skating. These activities will allow you to engage and spend time with your family while keeping the extra pounds off.”

Pass on the apps. A few appetizers here and there can be lovely, but chowing down on chips and dip before a meal can cost you. “Check the table before you serve food to yourself,” Strahan said. “Decide which foods you want to eat and which can be left out and then stick to that decision. You can also chose low-calorie appetizers like vegetables or fresh fruit to save your calories for the main course. Or you can skip the appetizer altogether.”

Most important, be honest about what you eat and don’t be too hard on yourself. “Each day is a new chance to start over,” Strahan said. “Enjoy the holidays in moderation and toast to your good health in the new year.”

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