It’s that time of year again. With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas coming up fast, some of us (myself included) are already dreading the scales each morning. The holidays are a time when over-indulging is easy, but all the extras mean that the average person will consume 21,000 to 35,000 additional calories and gain 6 to 10 pounds between Halloween and New Year’s Day!
But this doesn’t have to be the season of overeating and regret with these tips from Michelle Ray, a registered dietitian with Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute.
On the calendar, Christmas appears as one day in December. However, by the time we factor in Christmas Eve dinner, one (or more) office parties, and a few lunches with friends, Christmas is celebrated for the whole month, meaning lots of opportunities to overindulge. “You know it’s coming, so have a plan,” Ray says. “Don’t skip meals so you can overeat later. Have a small snack before going to a party or dinner to help curb your appetite.”
Instead of giving up your favorite holiday food, find a balance. Consume smaller portions and cut back on fat, sugar, and salt whenever possible. One tip you can practice now is developing the habit of putting your fork down between every bite. Since it takes about 10 minutes to finish a meal but 20 minutes to register fullness, this trick can make you take longer to eat. The added benefit, Ray says, is that it can help you focus on the people you’re there to see, rather than the food.
If you’re asked to bring a dish to a gathering, opt for a colorful salad, roasted or baked vegetables, or a fruit pie. “Fruit pies and pumpkin pies typically have 50% fewer calories than pecan pies,” Ray says.
When cooking your holiday dishes, use low-fat substitutes whenever possible. “Fat-free sour cream, fat-free cream cheese, skim milk, and fat-free gravy and salad dressing are all healthier options,” says Ray. “When you’re ready to eat, decide what you can do without and what you absolutely have to try to help keep you from consuming too many extra calories.”
With so much food and fellowship, it’s hard not to get caught in the trap of overeating. Not surprisingly, a typical holiday meal can top 7,600 calories. One trick to avoid those extra calories is to spoon out smaller portions of your favorites onto the plate and eat away from the serving table. With so much variety, you may want a serving of everything, but your heart (and waistline) will thank you for just having a bite instead. Ray says that portion control can have a big impact on the calories that make up a holiday meal.
“Growing up, I remember grandma making more pies than there were family members,” Ray says. “For holiday meals, try not to cook more than you’ll need so you aren’t eating days of heavy leftovers.” For instance, cooking one potato per person at the get-together for the mashed potatoes makes more sense than cooking a 5-pound bag for a family of four.
Remember that alcohol, soda, juices, and other sugary beverages can be a source of unwanted calories. Opt for calorie-free beverages or sparkling water when possible. Unsweet tea with lemon and sugar substitutes can be a quick and easy way to shave off extra calories from the holiday meal.
“Avoid alcohol if you can,” Ray says. “If you are drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with water to cut down on calories and keep yourself feeling full.” Ray notes that two mixed drinks may have as many as 500 calories, while two glasses of wine have about 200 calories.
Take a Break
Before enjoying a sumptuous feast of turkey and all the fixings, consider taking a brisk walk or throwing around the ol’ football. Exercise curbs the appetite and can help prevent overeating. Some people know this so well that they sign up for a 5K run/walk like the Charlotte/Southpark Turkey Trot held this past Thanksgiving. Even taking a walk between the main course and dessert is a good idea.
For those who really want to stay in control, Ray recommends keeping a food diary. “It’s your best friend,” she says. “It’s the best tool to use to hold yourself accountable for what you’re eating.” She says even if you have overeaten, be honest in the diary. “That might motivate you to exercise or eat lighter the next time.”
Novant Can Help
Novant Health has a variety of tools that can help you keep on top of holiday weight gain. Your primary care physician can refer you to a registered dietitian at Novant Health in Matthews, Charlotte, or Huntersville for a one-on-one consultation.
You can also visit novanthealth.org/remarkableyou for healthy recipes, a holiday cookbook, educational videos, and more.