Why are the holidays such a struggle to maintain our weight? The season provides an overabundance of high-fat, high-calorie foods, and drinks in large portions. In fact, the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, casseroles and desserts typically provides about 3000 calories in one sitting. In addition to excessive portion sizes of high-calorie foods, we tend to decrease our physical activity and put ourselves in highly emotional or stressful situations. Did you know that the average American gains about 1 pound from Thanksgiving to New Years?1 This may not seem significant, but the weight is usually not lost over the next year and can add up over time.1 So how can we make this year healthier than years past?
- Be realistic. Focus on weight maintenance instead of weight loss. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. Make a plan to NOT diet at the start of the New Year. Anticipation of food restrictions encourages binge eating.
- Stay Active. Keeping up with your physical activity not only allows for weight maintenance, but helps relieve stress and improve sleep. Stress may increase over the holidays and may increase your risk of heart attacks. Increase your activity in your daily routine. Park further out in the parking lot when shopping, take the stairs when you can, and plan a family walk or game of flag football after eating your holiday meal.
- Enjoy the Party. Holiday parties provide many opportunities to derail your healthy eating. Avoid going to parties hungry. You can eat a healthy snack before the party to help alleviate hunger. Make conversation the priority; we tend to eat less when we are talking. To help avoid endless grazing, don’t hang out by the food table!
- Limit the Festive Beverages. We often forget the amount of calories in the seasonal drinks. For example, 1 cup of regular eggnog (without alcohol) provides 343 calories, 11 grams saturated fat and 34 grams carbohydrates. Limit festive and/or alcoholic beverages to 1 serving. (1 serving of alcohol equals 1.5 ounces liquor, 12 ounces beer or 4-5 ounces of wine).
- Prepare Your Main Entrée the Healthy Way. Purchase a fresh or frozen turkey that doesn’t have added sodium or fat. Try stuffing your turkey with citrus fruits rather than basting with butter or broths. Choose a fresh ham rather than cured hams to decrease the amount of sodium. For something new, try a non-traditional meal such as fish, shellfish or lean steak.
- Serve Up a Healthy Side Dish. Cook the stuffing or dressing in a casserole dish to decrease the excess fat drippings. Consider a dark, leafy green garden salad as an additional vegetable. Choose baked sweet potatoes or yams over the high sugar content of candied yams.
- Offer a Healthy Dessert Alternative. Consider decreasing the amount of sugar in a recipe by using a baking alternative, such as applesauce or pureed prunes. When making a pumpkin pie, pick the pureed pumpkin rather than the pumpkin pie mix or filling. You can also use a healthier graham cracker crust instead of a pastry crust or make the festive beverage, like eggnog, the dessert!
All in all, remember it is a holiDAY. Technically, a holiday is just one day. However, these “days” turn in to holiday months. Avoid the “all you can eat” mentality and enjoy your favorite things in moderation. Limit the unhealthy meal for that one day only and continue to purchase your normal healthy foods for meal preparation between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!