Feel like you pile on 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? There’s good news and bad news. The good: Researchers have found that most people gain just one pound during the holidays. The bad: They found that one pound tends to stick around for good. In other words, a handful of holidays from now you could be one size bigger.
The holidays are hard on any healthy diet. There are parties and dinners, coworkers with dishes of red and green M&Ms, well-meaning neighbors delivering cookies to your doorstep and reasons to overindulge at every turn. So while you should absolutely savor the season, it’s also smart to get your defenses up. Here’s how:
Pick your Battles
All that once-a-year stuff – your mom’s peanut butter fudge, your mother-in-law’s stuffing, the fun holiday cocktail at your friend’s party? Go for it. These foods help make the holidays memorable, and it’s OK to celebrate some occasions with special foods (passing up your favorites may also make you feel sad and deprived, which tend to trigger overeating later). Remember that one serving of a gooey dessert won’t put on pounds – but making it a regular habit will.
How: Make allowances for these special foods by passing up all the ho-hum calorie bombs that populate holiday parties, like dishes of candy, platters of cheese cubes, creamy dips and fried hors d’oeuvres. If a friend or relative tries to foist food onto you that you just don’t want, keep your resolve without ruffling feathers – tell her you couldn’t possibly eat another bite, but you’d love to take some home. Then you can decide whether to freeze it for another time or simply pitch it.
Start off Right
Beginning your day with pancakes or mega-bagels may stoke your cravings for more starchy, sugary foods all day long. Instead, choose a low-sugar, high-protein breakfast with some fiber. Protein and fiber are two of the most filling nutrients you can get and will make it easier to control your eating later on.
How: Try breakfast options like a hard-boiled egg and a smoothie loaded with greens, some mashed avocado on whole grain toast, plain Greek yogurt with walnuts, frozen raspberries and a drizzle of honey or oatmeal mixed with a spoonful of peanut butter and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.
Liquid calories (think cocktails, cocoas and festive, flavored lattes) are everywhere during the holidays. But the trouble with beverages is that the body doesn’t recognize the calories in drinks the same way it does with calories from food, so you don’t get as full from them and are more likely to overdo it. Some of them are as hefty as a meal – the hot chocolate from one popular chain restaurant has 510 calories!
How: At parties, go easy on cream- and milk-based cocktails (like White Russians, mudslides and chocolate martinis) or super-sweet fruity drinks (like sangria). Lighter options: wine spritzers, diet soda-based cocktails (such as flavored vodka and diet ginger ale) or even champagne. Alternate each one with a glass of citrus-spiked sparkling water or seltzer. At the coffee shop, ask for just one pump of syrup when ordering flavored drinks, or simply sprinkle some cinnamon or cocoa powder on a regular latte or cappuccino.
Put it in Perspective
“The holidays” may encompass the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but in reality there are only a few true holidays in that timeframe. There are plenty of days that aren’t packed with parties and special dinners. It can be easy to fool yourself into thinking that it’s a mandatory unhealthy five-week binge, but that doesn’t need to be the case.
How: Stick to your usual healthy habits most days. If your home or office is a landmine of holiday cookies and goodies, get them out of sight (or give them away). While you’re at it, get real with yourself. The holidays are not the ideal time for weight-loss or eating “perfectly.” Trying to stick to an overly restrictive regimen is a recipe for disappointment this time of year. If you want a goal, aim to maintain your weight. In the holiday food-for-all, that’s a worthy accomplishment. •
Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian, educator, freelance writer and the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. She lives in Clintonville and blogs at www.RealMomNutrition.com.