I know it can seem impossible to control what you eat during the holidays due to all of the parties and special occasions that occur, but weight gain is not inevitable! Instead of worrying about weight loss during such an overwhelming time, focus on maintaining your current weight and adding in exercise when possible- a game of touch football while Christmas dinner is in the oven or a walk with family before dessert. Below I’ve put together five simple substitutions for a happy and healthy holiday season.
Whether you have 3 social engagements in the same day or 3 in the same week, you can’t walk into each one and eat and drink as if it’s the only party of the year. Instead, you need to be selective about where your calories are going to come from so you can stay within your personal calorie “budget.” A good place to start is with the beverages. A no calorie diet soda or glass of seltzer with a twist of lime can save 150 to 300 calories compared to a glass of wine or fancy mixed drink. And choosing a non-alcoholic drink will also help you make the rest of your food decisions with a clear head.
When it comes to weight control, every calorie counts! That means you need ways to offset the added calories you’re likely to eat when the tins of homemade cookies and boxes of assorted chocolates are passed around. It’s possible by making lower calorie substitutions throughout the day. For example, order a Skinny Latte made with a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame, and nonfat milk instead of your usual mocha coffee drink. Or you can swap out your mid-morning muffin for a reduced-calorie, high fiber granola bar. How about passing on the croutons at the salad bar and taking an extra scoop of crunchy cauliflower for another calorie-saving trade-off? By saving calories throughout the day, you can enjoy a few more later on.
We can’t add more hours to the day to get all those extra errands done we have this time of year, but keeping plenty of better-for-you foods on hand can help fuel us while doing them. The best choices provide protein and fiber so we’ll feel satisfied longer. Try a container of light yogurt with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, a cheese round or wedge with a few whole wheat crackers, or a small container of hummus with some baked soy chips for great grab-and-go snacks that can curb your hunger until your next meal.
Even if it feels like your “to-do” list gets longer every day, skipping meals is not a good way to catch up. Eating on a regular schedule keeps your energy levels on track so you can get to the bottom of that list! It will also help prevent the impulsive eating that can occur when you get too hungry and face a food court full of temptation. You can make your meals as simple as a healthy frozen dinner heated up in the microwave or a soup and sandwich combo from the nearest deli. The key is to take the time to stop and eat a planned meal instead of over eating an unplanned one.
The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so make sure you keep your sights focused on the fun, not just the work. Delegate, improvise and take shortcuts to reduce some of the demands on your time and the stress eating that can go with it. Wouldn’t a massage, a facial or long soak in the tub make you feel more relaxed? Making time to pamper yourself is often all it takes to put things back into perspective.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.