Remembering basic healthy eating habits throughout the holiday season can not only prevent the 1-2 lb weight gain that the average American experiences each year but to also enjoy our favorite holiday foods and beverages without guilt or deprivation. Whether you are cooking for friends and family or enjoying the season as a guest, following these tips will come in handy:
• Focus on weight maintenance, not loss - If you have been working to shed pounds and feel you can keep working towards your goal throughout the 6-week holiday season, that is great! However, if you're not so sure about continuing to achieve your weight loss goals through the holidays, just focus on maintaining your current weight and celebrate your successes. You can always restart your weight loss plan on January 2nd when temptations are reduced.
• Plan ahead - Holiday meal planning really begins before going to the grocery store. Preparing a grocery list and knowing items that are needed for healthy cooking can prevent impulse buys at the grocery store, which are typically high in sugar. Save those calories for homemade desserts instead of processed package sweets. It will help your food budget as well.
• Modify recipes - The internet is an amazing resource to find ways to swap ingredients for healthier options and still enjoy your traditional recipes. Ideas to consider include experimenting with spices in place of salt, using low fat instead of full fat dairy when a recipe calls for milk or cream cheese, or reducing sugar as a sweetener and using something like applesauce. Here's a helpful link to healthy substitutions:
• Portion control - Holiday meals tend to include many different dishes which can mean more calories. If you know you are a member of the "clean plate club", you probably want to focus on portion size and know that you can always go back for seconds.
• Go light on calories where possible - A great way to avoid extra calories is to keep appetizers on the light side. Raw vegetables or whole wheat pita chips and hummus are a healthy option to keep guests satisfied but hungry for the delicious meal to come. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are another area to be aware for added calories during the holidays. Reading beverage labels to check for sugar content and following moderate alcohol intake, which is one drink for women and two drinks for men per day, can save calories.
• Go heavy on veggies - This is one area to load up on without loading on the calories. Adding vegetables to a dish adds nutrient-dense calories, rich with vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep you energized for all those parties and entertaining!
• Bring your own healthy dishes to a party - Having something that you know you will eat without spoiling your best efforts to follow these healthy holiday guidelines can help avoid guilt and frustration. As a guest, this puts you in control. Feel free to enjoy what the host has prepared, but now you can do so in small portions.
• Listen to your body - Hormones that regulate hunger and satiety work well for most people, even during the holidays! Being aware of those cues and eating until satisfied instead of overstuffed is another way to avoid over-consumption. Learn to listen to those signals and help them to work efficiently.
• Don't skip meals - Waiting until the "big meal" to eat, thinking you'll reduce calorie intake for the day, could backfire. Most people will sit down to the table famished and ready to eat anything and everything. Try eating a small meal a few hours before the feast and see if that improves your impulse eating at the table.
• Plan for physical activity - Continuing an exercise routine is important during the holiday season to help reduce stress and keep you healthy. Try experimenting with winter activities such as snow shoeing or cross country skiing. Snow shoveling is a great way to burn calories too!
Most importantly...enjoy the holidays with family and friends! The Mediterranean diet, one of the most recommended for health and wellness, emphasizes enjoying fun activities and spending time with those you love. One of the many functions of food is to help us celebrate, so enjoy your traditions and celebrations and do what's good for your health!