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Tips For Healthy Holiday Eating

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Americans gain an average of five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, usually due to a host of holiday feasts, parties and gatherings that offer an abundance of tasty, but not always healthy, foods and snacks. While some consider unwanted weight gain during the holiday season to be a fact of life, experts at Northwestern Memorial Physician’s Group emphasize that enjoying holiday favorites doesn’t mean having to suspend healthy eating habits.

“By taking a few simple measures to ensure you stay conscious of what you eat, you can easily enjoy holiday gatherings without the worry of weight gain,” says Gretchen Peyton, RD, LDN, CNSD, of Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Partnership Medicine.

Plan ahead

A common misconception surrounding holiday feasts is that skipping meals will “save room” for – and justify – large quantities of food consumed later in the day. However, this can quickly throw off your metabolism and lead to overeating.

“Skipping meals or snacks in anticipation of a feast sets your hunger into overdrive,” Peyton says. “By the time you finally eat, excess hunger will make you more likely to choose food impulsively, thus making you prone to overeating.”

To ensure that you’re not famished and therefore susceptible to overindulging, Peyton offers the following tips:

* Eat a well-balanced breakfast of protein and high-fiber foods in order to maintain a healthy metabolism that allows you to enjoy, but not overdo, your favorite foods.

* Eat a healthy snack or light meal prior to arriving at a holiday event. This can help curb the desire to pile your plate high with more than you need to chew.

* If your calendar’s full of holiday invites and gatherings, try to plan healthy meals throughout the week to balance the array of heavy party foods eaten away from home.

Less is more

Be selective and choose small amounts of food to enjoy from table spreads rather than piling your plate high with your favorite dishes. “Sticking to small bites will allow you to enjoy more items in the buffet line, without overindulging in high-fat or high-calorie items,” says Peyton, who offers the following suggestions for portion control:

* Use appetizer plates to help you stick to small portions

* Drink plenty of water to help control hunger

* Take advantage of veggie trays or salads (but be careful with dips and sauces) – the more color variety on your plate, the better

* Mix and mingle throughout a gathering rather than lingering near the table where you’ll be inclined to graze

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Maintain balance

“A day or two of your favorite calorie-heavy favorites won’t make or break your health,” says Peyton. “However, if you’re attending a number of holiday parties or gatherings over the course of several weeks, it’s important to achieve balance by swapping some of your favorite foods with their healthier counterparts.”

Following are some substitutions that will help keep calories in check:

* INSTEAD OF chips and creamy dip…CHOOSE baked chips with salsa or low fat dressing

* SKIP deep fried appetizers…and OPT FOR appetizers such as grilled satay, steamed dumplings, veggies and dip or shrimp cocktail

* EAT LESS cream based soup and bisque…AND MORE vegetable or broth-based soups

* RATHER THAN reaching for dark-meat turkey with skin…SELECT white meat turkey without skin

* LIMIT creamed vegetables…BUT ENJOY raw or steamed vegetables

* RE-THINK sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes with gravy…AND CONSIDER baked sweet or regular potatoes

* SUBSTITUTE croissants and biscuits…REPLACE WITH whole-wheat dinner rolls

Stay active

Busy schedules around the holiday season may leave you feeling less motivated to maintain a regular exercise schedule. However, a moderate level of activity for just 30 minutes a day can stave off weight gain.

“Fewer trips to the gym doesn’t mean having to skip exercise altogether,” says Melissa Paolino, MS, exercise physiologist at Northwestern Memorial. “It’s easy to incorporate mini workouts into everyday tasks, which will help burn extra calories, and together, may even add up to a full workout.” Paolino offers the following tips:

* Park farther away from the store’s entrance – a brisk walk to and from your car (about 10 minutes) can burn up to 50 calories.

* Pick up the pace when power shopping at the mall – a speed walk from one end to the other can get your heart rate up and may burn up to 380 calories per hour.

* Outdoor chores such as raking the lawn or shoveling snow can provide a good upper body workout – and just 30 minutes can burn up to 150 calories.

* Enjoy some fun in the snow with your kids – activities such as sledding or ice skating provide a great lower body workout and can burn up to 350 calories over the course of one hour.