A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Smart Health: Tips and tricks for holiday eating — so you don’t gain that average five pounds this year

By Kristen Mees
St. Elizabeth Healthcare

The average American gains five pounds over the holidays – something that many of us don’t want to hear in the midst of the holiday season. This weight gain is attributed to over-indulging in delicious foods and delightfully festive drinks, as well as the hustle and bustle of the season that limits our normal healthy activities.

Less time for working out and watching what we eat makes for extra pounds to our waistlines. What can be done to keep these pounds at bay this holiday season?

Get set up for success

For starters, try not to think of the holidays as one long-running opportunity to indulge.

“Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are each ONE holiday,” says Rebecca Jilek, a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at St. Elizabeth Physicians. “It’s important to remember that the actual holiday does not extend for six weeks.”

It’s also important to be aware that food can also serve as an emotional trigger to eat more than we normally would.

“Emotions can run deep over the holidays,” says Rebecca. “For some people, there are memories associated with foods that are only served once a year. It’s easy to over-indulge when you feel like you’ll only be able to enjoy your favorite dish once a year.”

To combat this, Rebecca suggests serving these dishes a few times a year to help prevent overeating. She also recommends making a game plan ahead of the holidays – and sticking to it!

An action plan for holiday eating

St. Elizabeth Physicians nutrition specialists offer these helpful tips and tricks for holiday eating:

Don’t head out on an empty stomach. It’s easy to overeat when you arrive at a party or dinner event offering delectable foods. Plan for a protein snack prior to arriving to the party – it will keep you from going too long between meals and overeating.

Small plates for the win. It’s the easiest way to manage your portion size – grab a small plate instead of a large dinner plate.

Avoid being a grazer. Fill up your small plate and head away from the buffet table. Standing next to the buffet or snack table encourages grazing and mindless eating.

There’s an app for that. Keep a food log or use a food tracking app to keep track of your food consumption from Thanksgiving until New Years. It will help keep you accountable. Better yet – get your partner or friend to join you!

Get creative with recipes. Many holiday favorites can be prepared with either reduced fat or fat free ingredients to help keep fat grams and calories down. Get creative with your recipes and substitute alternative ingredients when you can.

Start with protein and veggies. Make a small plate of mostly protein and non-starchy vegetables.

Add in small helpings of three or four of your favorite items. You’ll fill up on the good stuff while still enjoying holiday favorites.

Sit down dinner or buffet? If you’re hosting a holiday party, consider going the buffet route. A buffet makes it easier for guests to eat less and not indulge in second servings.

Watch the extras. Although we all love sauces and gravy, they can quickly add calories and fat to your plate. Avoid covering everything on your plate in gravy and opt for just one ladle of gravy.

All things in moderation

The holidays are often an excuse for us to have that extra glass of wine or a specialty coffee drink. However, think twice before you order that sugar-filled coffee – many of the holiday specialty drinks are equivalent to eating an entire meal in calories, fat and carbs.

Alcohol is also a high-calorie item. Moderate your alcohol consumption – the recommended daily amounts are one alcohol beverage for women and two alcohol beverages for men. Stick to low-calorie mixers and make sure to drink a lot of water.

Keep it in perspective

This year, keep the holidays simple: focus on eating only when you are hungry and stick to your action plan. Most importantly, try to keep the holidays in perspective. This special time of year is about family, friends and spending time with those you love. Enjoy yourself!

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