Feasting with family and friends doesn’t have to mean facing holiday weight gain this year. Planning ahead and including few simple substitutions will make your upcoming celebrations both happy and healthy (without sacrificing flavor) for everyone sharing your season.
To lighten up the traditional holiday fare found on most Cincinnati tables, I asked 20-year nutrition veteran Lisa Andrews (pictured) of SoundBitesNutrition.com for her advice on surviving the high-calorie season. An expert at diet counseling, meal planning and recipe makeovers, she offered the following tasty morsels.
DON’T BE A STATISTIC: Each year the average American can expect to pack on somewhere between one and 10 permanent pounds during the holidays. Before you overindulge, decide how long you want to carry around that must-have dessert.
DEVELOP A STRATEGY: We spend a significant amount of time planning exactly which dishes will make an appearance on the holiday table. Applying the same effort to planning which foods you will enjoy will help you make it through the day without feeling deprived of the full experience. Don’t be tempted to skip breakfast in anticipation of a large meal. Instead, Andrews suggests eating foods low on the glycemic index coupled with a small amount of protein for staying power. Try a few tablespoons of peanut butter on a whole wheat English muffin or fiber-rich sandwich thins (try Arnold brand) to fill your tummy and keep your blood sugar stable.
STAVE OFF HUNGER: Arriving ravenous at the party is a surefire recipe for overindulgence. Overdoing it on appetizers alone can pack an additional 500-700 calories into a single day. Avoid this pitfall by popping a handful of almonds or snacking on an apple before you head out to a party.
BEWARE OF THE BOOZE: Along with adding a few hundred calories to your daily intake, alcohol acts as a stimulant, which increases appetite and decreases your resolve. It can also dehydrate you, leading your body to seek out water in the form of additional food. “Enjoy it responsibly,” Andrews says. “Be sure to stay hydrated and balance your alcohol consumption by drinking equal amounts of water to limit its impact on your diet.
MIND YOUR MANNERS: Paying attention to social graces might be the saving grace you need while visiting around the buffet. Employing a simple strategy such as “I will not talk with my mouth full” can help you eat less, Andrews says.
SAY "NO" TO STRESS: Everyone knows that the holidays can be stressful, but turning to food for comfort can lead to unintended consequences. “Respect your stomach,” Andrews says. “If you’re stuffed, stop! Find another outlet such as going for a walk.” Attending group classes can also help you develop a clear plan for making the right choices under pressure. When it comes to filling your plate, Andrews has some specific advice for trimming traditional holiday dishes.
LEAN AND MEAN: Both turkey and ham have about 100 calories per ounce, including dark meat turkey. The fat content is really negligible, so choose whichever meat gives you the most eating satisfaction and enjoy a portion of three to four ounces.
CUT THE CASSEROLES: Substitute the customary green bean casserole for lightly sautéed green beans with heart-healthy olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked pepper, and save 175 calories. Swapping a serving of heavy sweet potato casserole with a light yet flavorful baked sweet potato perked up with a dash of cinnamon will save you an additional 120 calories.
TURN IT UP!: Turn down the calories and turn up the flavor by substituting chicken broth for whole milk in your mashed potatoes and save additional calories in the process.
B.Y.O.B. (BRING YOUR OWN BOWL): Help start new traditions by whipping up a nourishing dish to share with your family and friends. If you are visiting relatives, bringing a dish prepared at home keeps you in control of at least part of the meal and will increase your choices at mealtime.
PICK YOUR POISON: Andrews counsels her clients to indulge in their favorites but to be sensible. “Skip the everyday stuff,” she says. “You can eat potato chips or cheese and crackers anytime. Be sure to choose foods that aren’t available everyday.” If Aunt Sue only makes her famous Waldorf salad for Christmas, then be sure to enjoy it. Cutting out too many goodies will leave you feeling deprived and can lead to binge eating.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve your social calendar will inevitably be packed with invitations to celebrate the season. Splurge, but do it sensibly. If you remember to make it a holi-“day” instead of a month-long food festival, you will make it through relatively unscathed.
LISA ANDREWS has been a dietitian in Cincinnati since 1990. She currently consults at the office of Dr. Lisa Larkin at 4460 Red bank Road Suite 100. Contact her at 513-675-6780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.