Follow ten simple strategies for healthy Holiday eating

by Jill Fleming, MS, RD/LD, Veterans Memorial Hospital Dietitian

Your holidays can easily be healthy when you follow a few simple strategies. Here are the 10 simple strategies to prevent holiday weight gain and help prevent excess stress. Follow as many of these steps as you are able to without feeling deprived.

Move in the morning. Take a morning walk to get your blood flowing. It is even better if you take a spouse, child or friend on that walk with you. You can even do it in your pajamas if you like. I always recommend taking a “turkey trot” around the block in the morning if you will be going to a holiday gathering, celebrating or dining out later that day.

Eat a healthy breakfast. A loaded green smoothie or a vegetable omelet is ideal. You will want to be sure to have protein at this meal to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the morning. Skipping breakfast to save calories always backfires. Most studies find that breakfast-skippers tend to eat more total calories during the day.

Make a healthy dish to pass at the party. There will always be plenty of high caloric, savory and sweet treats brought to the gathering. When you bring something with vegetables, such as a vegetable tray with a dip made using cottage cheese or yogurt, you will know that at least one of the options at the buffet is healthy. This will help you stay on track with your health goals.

Have a snack two to three hours before going to the party. This will help take the edge off of your appetite, helping you feel more in control of the choices you make at the gathering. The snack should be about one fist size in volume and ideally will contain some protein. A cup of yogurt with a few slivered almonds or an apple with a little peanut butter will be perfect.

Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol provides extra calories, which are easily stored by your body as fat. Also, your liver sees alcohol as a toxin, so it needs to redirect its focus to clearing it out of your body. Consumption of alcohol often causes us to have the “what the heck” attitude toward our food choices and can sabotage your healthy weight efforts.

Focus on gratitude. When you sit down to eat, pause and say thank you. Thank you to those who prepared the food, to the farmer who grew/raised the food or to the Devine. Think about how this amazing food is going to nourish your body. Don’t beat yourself up when you are eating something that is not considered healthy. Eating with the thought of guilt will hinder digestion.

Eat your “second-helping” first. Only plan to eat one plate of food at your gathering. This would ideally be filled with your favorite holiday foods, not necessarily just the healthy ones. For me, it is Elsie’s Swedish meatballs rolled in Lefse, the 7-layer salad, the stuffing/dressing and chocolate mousse. The key is to avoid eating too much volume of food, even if the calories are quite high. The best part: four hours later, when your hunger returns, you get to eat again!

Eat nice and slow, enjoying every bite of food. Remember that the enjoyment in eating happens in your mouth, not your stomach. You may want to move away from the serving table, as it will be easier to practice mindful eating. Be sure you are not distracted by a TV or computer while eating. Cell phones placed in a basket at the door helps kids focus on the conversation as well.

Talk a walk outside after the big meal. Breathe some fresh air, throw the football around or just laugh at the kids playing in the snow. You tend to get into trouble when you linger at the dining table, holding onto your fork, passing pies around.
Focus on the reason for the season. Enjoy family, friends and your annual traditions. Watch a classic movie or play a board-game together so that all of the focus is not on the food. Gratitude for how fortunate you are this year will fill you up even more than the pumpkin pie!