Healthy Holiday Eating

November 24, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

November into January is a time when we gather, repeatedly, for good fun, good friends, and good food. For those of you who are doing a great job managing your eating during the spring, summer, and fall months, winter is the danger zone.

Or, as my patient Lucy asked during a phone consultation, “How can I get through the next few months without gaining a dress size?”

Lucy had done an outstanding job of following the weight loss plan we created together. It included lifestyle changes like daily walks and a new approach to meals. Lucy had met her goal of losing 35 pounds, and she was determined not to gain it all back. But after the first holiday party of the season, Lucy was worried. “I’m entertaining once every week until New Year’s,” she explained, “and I’d love to have some ideas for dishes that are festive enough for the holidays but won’t pack on the pounds.”

Lucky for Lucy, I’ve gathered quite a collection of tips to help people through times like this. By now, most of us are well aware of the pitfalls ahead—the seemingly endless parade of creamy eggnog, sweet delicacies like pecan pie, and butter melting on piping hot biscuits right out of the oven. It’s all delicious and right there in front of you. Plus, some of these dishes are once-a-year treats that a friend or relative spent hours preparing. How do you keep eating sensibly in the face of all of this plenty? Here’s how:

Don’t Let Yourself Become Famished

Being hungry undermines your willpower. When you’re starving, all you can think about is food. So, if someone hands you a hunk of homemade fudge, you’re more likely to eat it and ask for seconds.

To avoid hunger pangs, keep a nourishing snack (a few unsalted almonds, an organic apple, or some sugar snap peas) handy to take the edge off your hunger.

Please don’t make the mistake of skipping meals to eat more later. Playing around with your blood sugar in that way is bad for you, and it may lead you to eat more at one super-sized dinner than you would have eaten at a regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Take Care of Thirst First

Many times, what we think is hunger is actually thirst. Start your day by drinking twenty ounces of water right when you get up. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Don’t settle for eight glasses of water. Drink one ounce of water for every two pounds you weigh, e.g. a 100 pound woman should drink fifty ounces of water daily.

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While we’re on the subject of water, make it a habit at social events to alternate between holiday beverages and water. Alcohol, eggnog, and punches are loaded with empty calories, plus alcohol is dehydrating. If it’s your party, think about providing low-calorie alternatives to cocktails and punches, like sparkling mineral water, a splash of fruit juice, and a wedge of lime.

Start with Soup and Salad

Foods that contain water, like soups and greens, help us feel full faster. That’s why I recommend starting meals with a small bowl of soup and a salad with light dressing. You’ll increase hydration along with your intake of healthy greens, and you won’t be quite so tempted to fill up on other, calorie-rich fare.

Focus on Fruits and Vegetables

When it’s time for the entree, we often load up our plates with meat and then squeeze a few vegetables in around the edge. I encourage you to do the opposite: fill your plate with vegetable side dishes (not the ones drowning in cream sauce), then add a small piece of meat.

When you begin eating, do the reverse—eat the meat first. Protein in your stomach turns off hunger signals, so you’ll be able to relax and eat more slowly during the remainder of the meal.

Slow Down

Put down your fork after each bite, chew thoroughly, savor the food’s flavor, and take part in conversations. After eating what’s on your plate, wait for 20 minutes before going back for seconds, if at all. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to receive the “I’m full” message from your stomach, so rushing back for more food too quickly can result in that regrettable overstuffed feeling. If you are hungry a few hours later, snack on some lean protein and a small portion of veggies.

Split Dessert

You’ve waited all year to taste the famous family cake, and you should have some! Just don’t have a lot. Have a thin slice or share a regular piece with a dining partner. Most people eat what’s put on their plate, so make sure you only put a little dessert on your plate.

This season is truly a special time of year, offering us an opportunity to enjoy the company of those we love and tell them how much they mean to us. Instead of focusing on food, enjoy your time with family and friends. We have so much to be grateful for, and that is something to celebrate now and all year long!


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