Don’t Gain a Pound This Holiday


Lucy had done an outstanding job of following a plan we devised to help reduce her weight (which we’ll look at in more detail in an upcoming issue). It included lifestyle changes like daily walks and a new approach to meals. The first month was tough, when Lucy had to break some bad habits. But once she got on track, Lucy met her goal of losing 35 pounds. She was determined not to gain it all back, but, after just one Thanksgiving dinner, Lucy was worried. “I’m entertaining at least once every week up until Christmas,” 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.”

Luckily for Lucy, I’ve gathered quite a collection of dining tips and recipes 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 say, “No thanks,” without offending anyone? Here’s how…

Don’t Let Yourself Become Famished

Actually, this is a very important rule all year long! Being hungry can undermine anyone’s willpower. When you’re starving, all you can think about is food. So, if someone hands you a platter of homemade fudge, you’re not likely to pass it up, no matter how good your intentions may be.

There’s a very easy way to avoid this trap. Make certain you’ve got a nourishing snack (a few unsalted almonds, an organic banana or apple, or some whole grain crackers) handy to take the edge off your hunger. And please do not make the mistake of skipping meals so that you can eat more later. Your body needs a steady supply of nutrients to function optimally. And need I remind you that the easiest way to derail a diet is by skipping meals?

Take Care of Thirst First

Stay hydrated (see our past Newport Natural Health Letter for more on the importance of water and hydration). Many times, what we think is hunger is actually thirst. Here’s a good way to prevent dehydration from triggering “hunger” pangs: divide your weight in half and drink the number of ounces of water equivalent to half of your weight each day. In other words, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water — half of 160 — daily.

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 you aren’t willing to forego holiday drinks completely, at least make every second drink plain water. Or create your own “mocktails” with sparkling mineral water, a splash of fruit juice, and a cocktail-style garnish, like a wedge of lemon or 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 as many vegetable side dishes (hopefully, they’re not soaked in butter or cream sauce) as you like, 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.

Build Exercise into Your Day

Move — even if it’s walking or jogging in place while watching a favorite TV show. If your schedule is too hectic for a half-hour of exercise all at once, split the recommended 30-minute sessions into three 10-minute workouts. When traveling, take a set of lightweight resistance bands along for a little novelty. If you’re willing to invest a bit more time in activity throughout the rest of the day, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding your efforts with an extra bite or two of a special treat.

What To Cook

Most people seem to have a traditional favorite main dish for entertaining, like a roast turkey or ham. But so many side dishes are loaded with unhealthy extra calories, like marshmallow-topped sweet potato casseroles, green beans smothered in salt or soaked in fat-laden canned soups, and delectable pies in buttery crusts.

In the “Recipes” section of the website, you can find a few healthier, lower-calorie alternatives that you can prepare for your own dinner or take to potlucks. This way, you’ll know that there’s at least one dish at each event you can eat without guilt. Each recipe serves 4 to 6 people.

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!


Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: December 2, 2011