The holidays are filled with family, parties, traditions and lots of yummy, festive food. But research shows that most adults usually gain some sort of weight over the holiday season. But don’t despair — this year can be different! It’s possible to make smart, healthy decisions while still enjoying yourself.
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Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, shares tips and advice on ways to enjoy the holidays without adding on the pounds.
- Get moving! One of the most effective ways to maintain or lose body weight is to engage in regular, sustained aerobic activity. To burn extra calories, turn up your exercise routine throughout the holiday season. If you exercise for 30 minutes a day, increase it to 35 or 40 minutes. If you exercise three times a week, move it up to 4 to 5 times a week, and increase the intensity of your workouts. (Before starting any exercise program, it’s always best to check with your doctor.)
- Cheat a little. It’s OK to cheat just a little! Allow yourself one small serving of a sweet or savory holiday treat or beverage every couple of days during the holiday season. But remember, you may have to compensate for it later in the day by reducing your total caloric intake or by burning a few extra calories while exercising. You can still enjoy your grandma’s famous holiday pie – but it will take some moderation and planning!
- Control the risk for temptation. Controlling even the slightest chance of coming in contact with “tempting” food is one way to effectively reduce your calorie intake. While you won’t be able to control all situations, focus on the many you can. For example, do you keep candy or cookies at your workspace or on the counter? Are your holiday goodies stored in well-trafficked spots like the dining room or pantry? Make a mental note to keep goodies in places that are less accessible. If you bake, keep a small amount for you and your family, then give the rest away. And if you get food as a gift, either regift it, donate it or share it with others.
- Focus on eating your fruits and veggies. Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day is a great way to help fill your stomach without exceeding your calorie count. Compared gram for gram with other snack foods (like chips, crackers and cookies), fruits and vegetables contain fewer calories and more nutrients. What’s more, the fiber in fruits and vegetables will fill you up faster than traditional snack foods.
- Never go to a party hungry. Before you go to a holiday party, eat a healthy snack such as a serving of your favorite fruit or a handful of nuts. When you arrive at the party, don’t rush mindlessly to the food table to fill up on snacks. Instead, assess your hunger. Once you feel hungry, take a look at all the food that’s available. Becoming aware of all the options will help you make more mindful choices.
- Be in charge of your party choices. Make heart-healthy choices at parties. Bring a healthy appetizer such as pre-cut, raw veggies, homemade whole-wheat pita chips with Greek yogurt or hummus dip, corn chips and guacamole or a fruit salad. Or try your hand at a healthy dessert like fat-free pudding, a fruit crisp or a low sugar cookie. This way you’ll know there will at least be one healthy option at the food table. Use smaller plates to reduce the amount of food you eat. Avoid heavy sauces made from cream or gravy and high-fat meats (such as meatballs, sausage, pigs-in-blankets or fried chicken wings). Also be sure you’re not drinking too many calories. Holiday beverages, whether containing alcohol or not, can be high in sugar and overall calories. Limit yourself to a small glass or stick with lower calorie options such as coffee, tea, flavored water, dry wine or spirits on the rocks. But no matter what, be sure to drink plenty of water!
- Say no politely. Many times you feel forced to eat foods because people keep putting it in front of you. Learn to say no politely or ask to take a small portion home and drop it off to a neighbor, friend or family member in need.
- Focus on socializing, not food. Don’t stand around the food table at a party. Instead, get out and mingle. After all, conversation is calorie-free! Try to stand more than you sit since (since it burns more calories) and offer to help clean up (since that burns even more calories!). Be polite and be one of the last to eat, the food looks much less appealing after everyone has dug their paws in or if it’s been sitting out for a while.