The holidays are a time to relax with family, spend time giving thanks for all that life has to offer and partake in holiday traditions. However, for many of us, those holiday traditions don’t involve plates of fresh vegetables or long afternoon walks. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season and a celebratory time full of temptations and demands due to family gatherings, parties, shopping and entertaining. Unhealthy habits may be inevitable this time of year, but there are simple strategies to help you stay on track to enjoy the season with your health in mind.
"Between busy schedules and a plethora of snacks and treats, it's difficult to stay motivated," says Hannah El-Amin, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Integrative Medicine. "It is possible however to indulge a little without gaining a lot."
According to recent data, Americans gain an average of five pounds during the winter, due to the abundance of holiday feasts and parties where food and beverages are often high in calories and fat.
El-Amin regularly counsels patients on ways to focus on healthy eating habits, and offers the following tips for maintaining a healthy body this holiday season:
Plan ahead –
Eat a healthy snack before attending holiday parties. A large apple, reduced fat flavored yogurt, or vegetables with hummus, are low calorie snacks that are filling. These will take the edge off the hunger before you arrive and, therefore, help with portion control. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to help curtail your appetite and prevent overindulging.
Don't miss a meal –
"A common misconception is that skipping meals will save room for large amounts of food later in the day," said El-Amin. "Instead, this sets your hunger into overdrive and by the time you finally eat, excess hunger will make you more likely to choose food impulsively and overeat."
Control your portions –
Avoid the clean plate club by eating until you are satisfied, not stuffed. Take time to pause during the meal to check your level of fullness. When you feel satisfied, reinforce your decision to stop eating by leaving the table, washing your plate and going to watch football. Choosing smaller portions from a variety of foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, will allow you to still enjoy your favorite holiday treats while eating less.
Swap this for that
– Offer to make a dish to share that uses fresh, healthy ingredients or makes substitutions to lower fat and sugar. At the holiday gathering, balance out your meal by swapping fattening ingredients with lower-calorie options. This includes liquid calories; drinking high-calorie beverages like soda, juice or alcohol can easily add another 500 calories to a holiday meal. Instead, opt for sparkling water or low-calorie beverages.
Keep moving –
Don't park in front of the buffet at a party. Research shows that having food in front of you prompts you to eat more, even if you're not hungry. Add fitness into your holiday celebration with exercise that is fun for the whole family. Take a walk after a large meal, play a friendly game of flag football, or build a snowman with the kids.
"The key to enjoying a healthy holiday season is moderation," says El-Amin. "Allow yourself to enjoy a little while still striving to make nutritious choices."