It’s the most fattening time of the year. Divine casseroles, roast beast, candies and rich desserts are as common as jingle bells. It could be a recipe that derails months of hard work in the gym and healthy eating at meals.
“It’s important to realize Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are only three days in the whole holiday season,” said Phil Rogers, director of the Baptist Memorial Healthplex in Oxford. “Three days of enjoying the holiday splendors will not ruin your weight loss goals.”
It’s not necessary to say “Bah! Humbug!” to all holiday treats. It’s all about balance.
“We know it comes every year, so you can make a plan,” said Leanne Davis, registered dietitian who works with members at NMMC Wellness Centers in Tupelo, Pontotoc and Baldwyn. “If you can get through Thanksgiving and Christmas and maintain or just gain a pound or two, that’s huge.”
A good attitude will take you a long way toward a healthier holiday.
If you go into the holiday season thinking you will fail, or that you will inevitably gain weight, then you will, Rogers said. “The power of positive thinking is very strong.”
Pick your favorites
When faced with the holiday plenty, Davis suggests people pay attention to what they choose and how much they take.
“Decide what you really want,” Davis said. “Pick things that are special holiday treats.” Consider passing on things that are available all year long.
At parties, pick your location so you aren’t tempted to do extra grazing as you visit with friends and family.
“Certainly, don’t hang out at the food table,” Davis said.
Watch what you drink, too. Punch, egg nog, wine and other alcoholic drinks can pack a wallop of calories.
“Pace yourself,” Davis said. Limit yourself or at least drink water between higher calorie offerings to slow yourself down.
Cooks can help everyone be a little healthier on the sly. In many holiday favorites, full-fat ingredients can be swapped for lower-fat ingredients without sacrificing taste. Amounts of butter often can be reduced. Green bean casserole can be made with lower-fat cream soup, for example.
“Modify the recipes you can, savor the ones you can’t,” Davis said.
Between the big celebrations, stay focused on healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables.
“Go back to eating a little more basic,” Davis said, but don’t skip meals to try to make up for the extra calories.
It’s important to stick with reasonable portion sizes, too. Gorging on a high-fat meal can raise triglyceride levels and increase the risk of heart attacks.
“Moderation is key,” Rogers said. “Just because there are 15 different casseroles to choose from doesn’t mean that you need to sample them all.”
Don’t drop exercise
With all the extra demands during the holidays, it’s tempting to let the trip to the gym drop. But it’s really important to remain active during the holidays, even if you have to modify your workout.
“Keeping up with some form of physical activity during the holiday season will help stop the yo-yo weight gain and loss that many people go through,” Rogers said.
Many people give up during the holiday season with the intent of getting back into it on Jan. 1. Continual off again, on again diet and exercise can be very detrimental to one’s metabolism and weight loss.
“There are little ways to do double duty with errands and exercise,” Rogers said. “Don’t wait on the parking space close to the entrance of the mall or store. Walking from the other side of the parking lot is not only good exercise but many times faster than waiting on someone to pull out of that perfect spot.”
Instead of going straight from the table to the couch after the holiday feast, put away the leftovers and go out for a family walk or games.
“You want to do something to offset the extra calories,” Davis said.
A healthy lifestyle is about more than what’s on the scale.
“When you eat healthier and exercise, you feel better about yourself,” Davis said.
Exercise also can help with holiday stress that comes with all the extra demands on already-busy schedules.
“It is important not only for physical health but also mental health to try to keep the added holiday stress to a minimum,” Rogers said.
Party smart tips
These tips from the American Dietetic Association can help you navigate holiday gatherings.
- If you plan on treating yourself later,
start your day with a small meal that includes
whole grains, fruit, dairy foods and protein
like eggs, ham or peanut butter.
- Don’t starve yourself beforehand.
Rather, eat a small, lower-calorie meal or
snack such as fruit or a bagel so you aren’t
tempted to overdo your calorie intake for the
- Select carefully between foods you definitely
will eat, those you will sample and
those you will skip.
- Don’t rush to eat. Socialize and settle
into the festivities before you eat.
- Move your socializing away from the buffet
or appetizer trays. This will minimize the
- When it comes to drinking alcohol, start
with a calorie-free, nonalcoholic beverage.
Satisfy your thirst before having an alcoholic
drink. It is recommended that women have
only one to two drinks per day and two to
three drinks per day for men.
Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal