Healthy Holiday Survival Guide

By Felecia Sumner, D.O., Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Physician

The holidays are a time to spend with family and loved ones and, of course, to eat! Although we may have the best of intentions, the spread of turkey, chicken, casseroles, pies and more may make it difficult to keep up with your healthy goals for the year. Here are some tips to help you survive your next holiday party or family dinner and not regret it so much later.

Eat Before the Party Starts

Going to dinner starving may be one of the worst decisions. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and a low calorie snack before heading to dinner. Great breakfast choices may include whole grain cereal with low fat milk, and fruit, or an egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast. A breakfast packed with protein and fiber will help to prevent overeating.

Survey the Buffet

We all make this mistake…by the time we get to the end of the line, there’s no room left on our plate. This forces us to grab seconds later. If you survey the line, you can limit your plate space to your healthy and favorite choices.

Eat the “Special Stuff”

1372787_21894386Don’t blow your precious calories on large portions of food you can eat any time. Fill your plate with small portions of holiday favorites that are only around one time a year. This way, you can really enjoy those desirable, traditional foods.

Of course, we all have our own favorites, but keep in mind that there are better food choices than others: White turkey meat, plain vegetables, roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, defatted gravy and pumpkin pie tend to be the best bets because they are lower in fat and calories.

Choose Your Beverage Wisely

1337577_56522667Water is your best friend. Not just today, but any day. Studies show that water helps control your appetite by making you feel full without the extra calories.

You should only drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is empty calories and lowers your inhibition, making it easier for you to agree to a second or even third helping! Staying sober and staying hydrated will allow you to keep your healthy goal in mind.

Eat Slowly

It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. While you’re savoring your food, you can give your stomach some time to catch up. An easy way to set the pace for your meal is to put your fork down between bites. Take time to enjoy what you’re eating now without thinking about what you’ll eat in your next bit. My grandfather used to tell me, “chew for every tooth you have”. I understand that this may look strange to count your chews in public, but I think you get the point.

Stop When You’re Full

It may sound obvious, but it’s one of the hardest things to do when everyone around you is getting up for seconds. In fact, you could just avoid seconds all together. If you feel full, you shouldn’t feel pressured to go for seconds. Your host will accept a polite, “no, thank you.”

Keep in mind that whatever you don’t eat today is just leftovers tomorrow! If you feel tempted to overeat, it may help to push the plate away from you when you’re done.

Keep It Moving

1084749_17935439Activity is key. If you exercise regularly, don’t break your regimen on Thanksgiving. If you don’t work out, try to get in a little something. Plan to take a walk, play a game of flag football or play with the kids before and/or after your meal. This will help you to burn off the extra calories even before you indulge in your favorite foods and is a great way to bring your loved ones together to enjoy the holiday.

Get Into the Kitchen

You’ll get bonus points for being the host! Cooking and spending lots of time in the kitchen not only earns you props at the dinner table, but it’ll also burn about 140 calories an hour! (Average based on a 160-lb. person.)

689174_28593773You can also consider these healthy options in the kitchen:

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices, rather than adding more salt to your food.

Even if you’re not the host, you should pitch in. Not only will preparing a meal burn a few extra calories, but it will also allow you add another healthy option to the spread. If you know what’s in it, you’ll know how much of it you can enjoy.

Be Realistic

The holiday season is a time to celebrate and enjoy time with family and friends. Considering all of the extra temptations, it may be a good time to strive for weight maintenance instead of weight loss. If you avoid gaining weight over the holidays, you’ll still be ahead of the game.

And most of all, enjoy the time with family and friends! The food is eventually lost, but memories last forever.

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