Ten Tips for a Healthy Holiday

Guys…..it’s that time of year again.  I won’t lie.  Last weekend I put up my Christmas tree and all my decorations.  I know, I know – it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.  Well, I don’t care.  Because I love Christmas, and just because I’ve got a tree up already doesn’t mean I won’t give Thanksgiving the proper attention it deserves next Thursday.  Geez.  I can’t believe Thanksgiving is next week. That can’t be right, can it?  I guess it is.  Scary how fast the time goes when you’re busy, amiright??

Anywho, as we all know, the holiday season is a magical time of the year filled with twinkly lights, warm drinks, friends, family, and more food than you’d need to feed an army. At least that’s how my family always does it (not complaining Mom, just sayin’…). So it’s no surprise that with such a surplus of delectable nibbles that you wake up one morning in January to find that your pants no longer button.  But this year, instead of just banking on that New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, how about we take steps now to not gain the weight in the first place?  Trust me, it’s way easier to not gain it than it is to just give yourself carte blanch for the season and then find the motivation to hit the gym everyday come the New Year.  I’ve put together these ten effective tips for making sure that you don’t gain weight over the holidays. Who knows, you may even end up losing a few pounds :-)

1.  Don’t Drink Your Calories

Where do a ton of holiday calories come from?  From your drinks!  As the weather gets cold, the number of warm, caloric beverage options goes up.  It’s so easy to get a ridiculous amount of sugar, fat, and calories from these beverages, and if you consume them on a regular basis, it’s definitely going to send your weight climbing.  Let’s consider two examples of common holiday beverages – you might be shocked to see just how bad they are for you.  Egg nog is pretty much one of the least healthy holiday beverages.  Turkey Hill’s egg nog has almost 400 kcal per cup, and close to 50 grams of sugar.  And keep in mind, that’s without any alcohol in there.  Starbucks’s most popular holiday drink is the Pumpkin spice latte, which for a typical 16oz serving size, has just as many calories as egg nog, and actually has more sugar, although it’s a little lower in fat.  The good news, is that with a little effort, we can find some healthier alternatives to fun holiday drinks that won’t strain your belt.  Here are some simple suggestions that will save you calories:

  • Use sugar free hot chocolate mix with low fat milk and skip
    the mini marshmallows.  If you want to make it pretty, add
    sugar free whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder
    (or sugar free chocolate syrup)

  • Dilute your apple cider with seltzer water to reduce calories
    and sugar – it makes a sort of Apple Cider Soda!
    photo (40)
  • Look for holiday flavored hot teas such as chocolate peppermint, apple cider, egg nog, gingersnap, and candy cane.  Hot tea has no sugar and no calories

  • Mix 1 part cranberry juice to 2-3 parts seltzer water. Add in lemon, lime, and/or orange slices, and a bag of fresh cranberries for a festive and beautiful, low calorie holiday spritzer

2.  Prioritize Your Plate

Although I’m not going to get into too much detail here, I want to at least mention macronutrients and have a mini nutrition lesson before going on to discuss food choices.  Trust me, I can (and have) go on about this topic for an irritatingly long time, but today we’ll just do a very abbreviated version.  Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are your three macronutrients. These are the three nutrients that give us energy (ie calories).  Of these “macros” (fat, carb, and protein), you’ve probably heard some conflicting nutrition advice.  Compared to a traditional American diet, I generally advise less carbohydrate, more fat, and about the same protein content.  As the holidays are a time for both rich fatty foods as well as sweet and starchy foods, I feel like I should at least mention that if it comes to carbs vs. fat, I will usually suggest moving towards fat and away from carbs.  Now, like I said that’s the super abbreviated version, but I at least wanted to explain that before going on, because a lot of people think that dietitians are all about things being low fat and filling up on whole grains and fruits, and some of them are, but not me.  Not that I think whole grains and fruits are bad for you – that’s not what I’m saying, but those are foods we need to eat in moderation, and we can be a bit more lenient with the fat that we eat, especially when it’s accompanying vegetables and protein.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.20.30 PM

So, now we can move on to the actual 2nd tip – Prioritizing Your Plate.  I advise my patients to eat like this all time, but especially during holiday, we should all be eating like this.  A typical plate of food has meat, starch, and a green vegetable.  It’s always a good idea to eat the protein first. Protein is what will fill you up and keep you full.  Second, eat the green (or non starchy vegetable).  Lastly, eat the higher carb food (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, corn, stuffing, fruit, yogurt – just to name a few examples).  If you eat everything and decide 15 minutes later that you’re still hungry, go back for seconds of the protein and veggie, but not the starch.

3. Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is always helpful when it comes to losing or maintaining your weight, and even more so during the holiday season because there are always a thousand parties or occasions that seem to be centered around food and drink.   So get out your calendars, and take note of the days that you’re going to be at a food filled event. Even though you’re going to be Partying with a Purpose (foreshadowing…), there’s still a good chance you’re going to end up consuming more calories than you would if you were just eating a regular meal at home.  So be proactive about it, and make sure you balance out the overindulging by being extra good the rest of the week. If the party’s on Saturday, make sure you plan out healthy food for the couple of days before and after. 

If you’re going to be traveling this holiday season, spend a little extra time in the kitchen and prep some healthier snack options to take in the car so that you and your family have healthy choices ready to go, and that way you won’t be as easily tempted to pull into a fast food restaurant. 

Avocado Hummus, (healthy)Vittles&BitsAvocado Hummus with veggies for dipping, makes a great, healthy snack that you can take in the car.

Or, you could always try these Peanut Butter Protein Balls
Peanut Butter Protein Balls, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Also, just in general the more meal planning you do over this season, the better off you’re going to be.  I’m not saying you have to sit down and plan out a spreadsheet with all your meals and snacks on it for the week. If you want to then go for it. But start small.  I always tell clients to start with 2-3 healthy snack options and 2-3 dinners that they can also eat as leftovers for lunch.  If you at least plan ahead enough to make sure you’re picking up the right items at the grocery store, then that’s half the battle. If you don’t have the right foods in your house, they’re not going to end up in your stomach. So a little bit of planning can really go a long way.

4.  Party with a Purpose

You can start preparing for a party before you even get there.  If you know you’re going to be starving by the time you get there, be sure to eat a snack before you go.  You don’t want to be starving when you’re standing in front of a buffet table, but you also don’t want to be so full that you can’t enjoy any of the delicious food available, so be sure to eat enough of a snack that you’re not starving, but not a big meal so that you’re not overly full.  Good options would be a light english muffin with PB, a light Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese with some fruit.

Once you’re at the party, don’t go straight for the food table to dig in, but take a moment and survey the options, especially if you’re not hungry at the moment. The food will be there later, so go say hello to everyone and then come back to the food when you’re actually hungry. It will taste better then.  But before you start eating, take a moment to assess what’s available. Most parties do have some healthier options such as a fruit and/or veggie tray, meat and cheese slices, shrimp, salads, and maybe a bowl of nuts or seeds.  Make a mental note to eat more of these items and to only choose one or two of the less healthy options, and keep your portions small.

If you’re not actively making a plate of food because you’re hungry and you’re going to sit down and eat, then walk away from the food.  If you stand and talk by the food, then you will end up picking at the food over a long period of time, which is grazing, and grazing leads to more calories eaten without ever really feeling full.

Instead of focusing on the food, make an effort to walk around and talk to friends and family members that you haven’t seen for a while. Focus on the conversation and the activities of the party rather than just on what’s available to eat. 

Also, taking your own healthy dish to a party is always a great idea because then you’ll know for sure that there’s something there that’s good for you. Here are some of my favorite party dishes:

Kale Chips, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Kale Chips – I know, it sounds kind of weird, but trust me they’re really tasty. They taste like potato chips but they’re good for you.

Buffalo Chicken Dip, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

 Buffalo Chicken Dip – a party standby, but not always packed with the best ingredients. This is a healthy version that I created so that I could basically eat it as a meal.  I promise, it’s still very good, just happens to also be good for you.

Crispy Cheese Chips, (healthy)Vittles&BitsCheese Chips – these are super fun, and can be made with low fat cheese or regular cheese.  It’s like a crunchy little morsel of protein :-)

Super Simple Deviled Eggs, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Super Simple Deviled Eggs – these always disappear fast at any gathering, and they’re packed with protein.  I just use light Mayo to keep the calories down.

5.  Make Smart Substitutions

Replace heavy, high calorie or high carbohydrate holiday dishes with lightened up options.  

Instead of sweet potato casserole that’s loaded with brown sugar and marshmallows, why not try roasting your own sweet potato fries? You can sprinkle on different spices such as cinnamon or cumin to give the fries a unique flavor.

Instead of a traditional high calorie, high carb mac and cheese, try making this Cheesy Cauliflower Bake.  It tastes a lot like mac and cheese but is waaaaaay better for you.
Cheesy Cauliflower Bake, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Replace apple pie with this simple, microwavable Apple and Pumpkin dessert, which by the way, is fantastic over plain Greek yogurt :-)

Quiche is a heavy way to start your day.  Swap it for these crustless mini quiches that are packed with flavor and protein.
Mini Crustless Quiche, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Green Bean Casserole isn’t as healthy as it sounds. Instead, try Roasted Asparagus Spears as your green side dish.
Roasted Asparagus, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

6.  Increase Your Exercise

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle all year long, but during the holiday season it’s a good idea to add more exercise to your regular routine.  For example, if you normally exercise thirty minutes a day, increase it 45 minutes. Or, if you already exercise 3 times a week, increase it to 5 times a week.  These little increases will help to combat the extra calories you’re consuming.

An easy way to add more exercise to your day, is to keep weights by your couch and do some light lifting each time you sit down to watch TV.  You can make a game out of it depending on what you’re watching. For example, if you’re watching a football game, each time there’s a change of possession do 15 bicep curls on each arm.  You can also easily work in cardio.  If you’re watching an hour long tv show, each time there is a commercial run in place for one minute, then do jumping jacks for one minute, then repeat till your show comes back on. 

Remember, it takes 3,500 kcal to equal 1 pound of body fat. You can eat that much in one sitting , or at one holiday party, but it takes a lot of work to burn it off, so make sure you find something to do to get your body moving this holiday season. 

7.  Don’t Be a Push Over for Food Pushers

So, what are Food Pushers?  We’ve all got them in our lives. Food pushers are nice, caring people who mean well but they try to “love you with food”.  Whether it’s a neighbor, a relative, a friend, we all know people who will sabotage our efforts to be good.  It could be someone who has the best intentions and just wants to give away food, or maybe it’s a jealous friend or relative that selfishly doesn’t want you to succeed in being healthy – either way, they’re not helping.  It’s important that you don’t give in just to make them happy.  Remember, you’re trying to be healthy in order to make YOU happy, and if they truly want the best for you, then they won’t be upset that you didn’t accept their food. You can explain to them if you want to, that you’re trying to be good, or you can choose to simply say “No thank you, I’m not hungry.”  How much you want to talk to them about it is up to you.  But honestly, you don’t need a good excuse.  If a friend tried to talk you into buying a really expensive pair of shoes that you didn’t need, you don’t have to go over your budget with them to justify why you’re not going to buy them.  This is a similar situation, but we tend to give in a lot easier when it’s food.  Try to think of it in the same way though, and don’t worry about hurting their feelings. As long as you’re polite about it, you’ve got nothing to feel sorry for.

One of the easiest ways to turn down food is simply to use the “broken record technique” and repeat the same thing over and over – “No thank you, I’m not hungry.”  or “no thank you, I don’t need it”.  Eventually they will realize your answer is not going to change, and they’ll stop insisting you take home their leftover pecan pie.

If you really feel that you just can’t refuse to take food from someone, maybe it’s your boss offering you a cookie that her that 10 year old son made “just for you”, remember that you can always graciously accept the food, and then choose not to eat it. You can take it home for a child or spouse, or you can simply throw it out as soon as you can do so without risking getting caught. That might sound harsh, or rude, but honestly they’re not going to know whether or not you ate it, or even if you ate a bite of it vs the whole thing.  And if it sets you back in your goals, then it’s not worth it. 

8.  Create a Support System

No matter what time of year it is, if you’re trying to watch your weight, it’s always helpful to have a good support system in place. If you live alone, then you’ll be able to easily control what food comes into your house, but if you live with friends or family, then you don’t always have as much control as you’d like. It’s important to get everyone in the house on board with having a healthy holiday.  Or if you’ve got kids and you want them to enjoy their holiday goodies as usual, it might be a good idea to at least have a discussion with them letting them know what your health goals are this holiday season. If your kids are old enough and they want to make sure they’re healthy this holiday season as well, then you can get everyone on board by making it a game or a competition.  If all household members are interested in losing or maintaining weight then you can make it a competition that way, or if you’ve got younger kids where weight loss or even really focusing on weight wouldn’t be appropriate, you can still get them involved by promoting healthy behaviors and making it a sort of game.  You can do “Who can create the healthiest plate?”, or “Who can log the most active time?”, whether that’s playing outside or maybe doing an interactive video game.  If you want to get high tech about it, there are tons of ways to track movements such as steps taken, distance walked, and flights of stairs climbed. There are tons of pedometers available, or you can use a number of different smart phone apps, or you can get really fancy with it and get a wearable device like a fit bit, a garmin vivofit, Nike fuelband, etc. 

If you would rather you can also use friends and/or coworkers as your support system.  You can do an officewide Holiday version of the Biggest Loser, you can ask co workers to keep junk food out of the office, and maybe even do a healthy holiday recipe swap if you’ve got enough people who are interested.  In either case, weighing yourself weekly is a good way to keep an eye on things and make sure that you’re not gaining a pound or two on a weekly basis. 

9.  Get Plenty of Rest

A good night’s sleep is essential for a well-functioning body.  Getting enough sleep ensures that you will have energy to exercise. It also reduces your stress levels, which in turn helps to decrease stress-eating and emotional eating. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.  If you don’t get enough sleep, it can mess up our hunger and satiety signals, causing you to feel hungry more often and satiated less often. 

Getting the proper amount of sleep will also help your body to fend off any illnesses that are going around. If you’re sick, eating right and exercising tend to go out the window, so the more you can do to keep yourself healthy, the better.

NYC Fall Weekend, (healthy)Vittles&Bits

Take it from my lazy girl Luna – gettin’ in your Z’s does a body good :-)

 10.  Give Yourself the Day – Not the Season

This one’s pretty straightforward.  A holiday (or at least most holidays) are one day.  So if you want to really indulge and have your favorite traditional foods on Thanksgiving and Christmas, then by all means go for it.  But remember that that’s two days out of two months.  You can’t just give yourself free reign from Halloween to New Years to eat whatever you want.  That’s over two months of indulging.  If you have that mentality, you’re going to have a tough time maintaining your weight, and over several years, that extra five to ten pounds each holiday season is really going to add up.  That’s 50-100 pounds over the next ten years!  So make sure that you’ve got a plan in place this holiday season to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. 

Wow.  That was a really long blog post.  If you made it to the end – congrats!

Now it’s your turn to talk to me – Leave a comment letting me know:
1) What’s your favorite thing about the holiday season?
and 2) How do you plan on having a healthy holiday? 

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