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10 Healthy Eating Tips During the Holiday Season

Can you picture this?? You're at a holiday party and the table is set.

Your mouth is already watering from smelling the mashed sweet potatoes, roasted turkey with gravy, pumpkin pie, and sugar cookies.

As your stomach grumbles you start thinking about all the calories and fat content. You start worrying about this so much that you begin to dread seeing the pie before the whipped cream even hits it. Suddenly, you're feeling stressed. You can already feel the guilt weighing on you for everything you're about to eat.

Sound familiar?

The holidays can sometimes mean that our health (and diets) go out the window until the New Year's resolutions kick in. This time of year is about celebration, which is why it's mostly focused around food and eating. We don't need to abstain from enjoying the foods we love, just moderate.

You don’t need to deprive yourself, eat only boring foods, or take your treats with a side order of guilt. Instead, by practicing a bit of defensive eating and cooking, you can come through the holidays without making “go on a diet” one of your New Year’s resolutions. These are our tips for staying healthy with moderation this holiday season. 

1. Enjoy the Foods You Love. Don’t eat everything at feasts and parties. Be choosy and spend calories judiciously on the foods you love. No one wants to feel deprived (and usually, this method backfires anyway!). So go ahead and help yourself to your favorite foods. If you modify the portions to be reasonable, you can still enjoy the foods you enjoy without stressing.

2. Try Eating Portioned Meals. Eat a bowl of whole grain cereal and low-fat milk for breakfast, a mid-morning snack of raisins and nuts, followed by a healthy lunch with a big salad or a sandwich made with whole grain bread will keep your body and brain fueled throughout the day. When you sit down to a meal, look at your plate as having sections. Half of the plate should be non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate should consist of starchy vegetables or whole grains, and the remainder should be lean protein.

3. Take 10 before taking seconds. It takes a few minutes for your stomach’s “I'm full” signal to get to your brain. After finishing your first helping, take a 10-minute break. Make conversation. Drink some water. Then recheck your appetite. You might realize you are full or want only a small portion of seconds.

4. Distance helps the heart stay healthy. At a party, don’t stand next to the food table. That makes it harder to mindlessly reach for food as you talk. If you know you are prone to recreational eating, pop a mint or a stick of gum so you won’t keep reaching for the chips.

5. Don't party on an empty stomach. Before setting out for a party, eat something so you don’t arrive famished. Excellent pre-party snacks combine complex carbohydrates with protein and unsaturated fat, like apple slices with peanut butter or a slice of turkey and cheese on whole-wheat pita bread.

6. Limit alcohol drinking. Alcohol increases your appetite and diminishes your ability to control what you eat. On average, most adults consume an additional 100 calories per day from alcoholic beverages. Even if you can't avoid the cocktails altogether, alternate between alcohol and a non-alcoholic sparkling water. Even better, if you decide to stay sober it'll be easier to avoid overindulging during dinner.

7. Put on your dancing (or walking) shoes. Part of the reason why people gain weight during the holidays is because there is a lot of sitting around indoors with nothing better to do than constantly graze. Make an effort to add some exercise into the holidays to avoid snacking all day long! Dancing is a great way to work off some holiday calories. If you are at a family gathering, suggest a walk before the feast or even between dinner and dessert.

8. Make room for veggies. At meals and parties, don’t ignore fruits and vegetables. They make great snacks and even better side or main dishes — unless they’re slathered with creamy sauces or butter. Vegetables contain a lot of nutrition, and a lot of fiber. Getting in as much as you can will help maximize the nutrient value of your meal, while at the same time helping you feel more satisfied. The added fiber will also keep things moving through your system. 

9. Cook from (and for) the heart. To show family and friends that you really care about them, be creative with recipes that use less butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening, and other ingredients that are rich in saturated fats. Prepare turkey or fish instead of red meat.

10. Pay attention to what really matters. Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter and cheer. If balance and moderation are your usual guides, it’s okay to indulge or overeat once in a while.

The holiday season is a time filled with parties, family gatherings, and lots of food, so it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But there's no need to feel like you must restrict or miss out on festivities for fear of overeating.

Always remember that this time of year is about celebration, not guilt! Keeping this in mind and following these steps will help you not only stay healthy, but also help you enjoy this wonderful time of year even more.

It's difficult to avoid overeating during the holidays. If you do slip up now and then, don't beat yourself up for it. Be kind to yourself. Remember that maintaining a healthy diet throughout the holidays takes practice. Forgive yourself and make sure your next meal or snack is a healthy one.