Get ready, folks: We’re about to embark on that wild holiday ride that’ll have everyone rolling in the aisles by New Year’s Day. Literally. It is feasting time, and who among us isn’t anticipating an excuse to nibble, nosh, munch and crunch our way to 2019? Mmmm — turkey, chocolate, candy canes, those delicious, menorah-shaped cookies my mom makes — I can already feel the Lycra in my clothes beginning to expand.
For many of us, succumbing to the piles of food we’re faced with this time of year has become as much of a seasonal tradition as giving gifts to the people we love. When the smell of fresh potato latkes permeates the air, I just know there’s no turning back. But it’s precisely these indulgences that leave us with yet another unhappy resolution come New Year’s Eve.
A seasonal tradition? Or simply another bad habit?
In either case, when there’s a will there’s a way. So if you’re hoping to avoid turning into a lump by season’s end, here are a few tips to help you steer clear of calorie overdrive. The first place you can start is with holiday meals.
1. Pace yourself. The holidays come but once a year, but the feasting often lasts all night. Remember this when you head for the appetizers. Don’t you want to save room for dessert?
2. Become a conscious eater. Nutritionists say it takes your body about 20 minutes to realize that it’s full. So instead of piling that home-cooked meal in as fast as you can, try savoring each bite until your body can register the intake. Enjoy the textures, explore the flavors, and chew slowly. And don’t reach for seconds automatically just because you’re caught up in conversation with out-of-town Aunt Sally. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or just eating out of sheer habit.
3. Sample a little of everything. The key here is “a little.” Chances are you will feel more satisfied if you know you’ve tried all that’s being offered. When everyone starts talking about the delicious candied yams, you don’t want to feel grumpy that you had to miss out.
4. Load up on your nutrients. Skinless white turkey meat is actually good for you, reports Dr. Donnica Moore on her Web site, www.drdonnica.com. Salad, corn and squash are also healthy choices. Instead of sizing up the meal according to how much fat you’ll need to avoid, try seeing it as a way to stock up on your neglected veggies. Have you really been getting your five servings a day?
5. Trade in the eggnog. Just because alcohol tends to be extremely high in calories doesn’t mean you have to forego holiday spirits altogether. According to The Complete & Up-to-Date Fat Book by Karen J. Bellerson, while 4 ounces of eggnog can have more than 180 calories and 9 grams of fat, the same amount of white wine has only 90 calories and is fat-free. You do the math. Just keep in mind that drinking too much of any kind of alcohol might lower your resolve to keep your dinner plate from overflowing. Studies show that when we drink alcohol, we’re much more likely to overeat than our sober friends. On the other hand, we’re probably a lot more fun.
6. Cook healthy. After all, you’re probably not the only one who’s fretting the holiday bulge. A few ideas to try: veggies and low-fat dip for an appetizer (rather than meat, cheese and crackers); stuffing cooked outside of the turkey, so it doesn’t soak up the fat; turkey dry-rubbed with fresh herbs and spices, rather than basted in butter; steamed or roasted vegetables (like rutabaga, turnips, yams, and celery root baked in olive oil and salt). Try whole grains in place of white bread (they’re lower in refined sugar and keep you fuller longer). Fruit cocktails and yogurt parfaits are great for dessert. When baking, you can experiment with the following substitutions:
• 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate = 3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 egg = 2 egg whites
• half the oil in a dessert recipe = an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce
Other great low-fat recipes can be found on most cooking sites on the Web.
7. Crash dieting is a no-no. Don’t think that just because you skip breakfast or starve yourself a day before the big event that you’ve “saved up” enough calories to spend at will. The University of Missouri Health Care Web site (www.muhealth.org) reports that coming to the table hungry only leaves more room for temptation, with a good chance you’re going to binge on food that likely has more calories than the bowl of cereal you omitted. Also, when you ambush your stomach with a massive amount of food after taking an extended break, your body will be reluctant to cooperate. Dr. Paulette Chandler, writing on the Web site www.intellihealth.com, explains that your body produces a certain volume of digestive juices, which means that large meals are poorly digested and put a stress on your system. Unless you’ve got a gig as Santa Claus the next day, filling up on a single meal won’t be to your advantage.
8. Become a judicious snacker. Wouldn’t you rather have a slice of the shortbread your sister made than a handful of the spiced nuts you don’t even like? Be conscious of the things you put in your mouth this time of year. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Although it might be hard to stay away from the treats at the office all day, if you reward yourself with something you really want, like a slice of fresh pumpkin pie after dinner, you’ll feel much more satisfied. Having control over what you eat means allowing yourself to indulge now and then.
9. Exercise. Walking around the mall with a bag of gifts in one hand and a cheese-smothered pretzel in the other doesn’t count. Try moving your tush in an environment where the faces of jolly gingerbread men don’t tempt you into submission. How about taking a walk in the woods, or making snow angels outside with your kids (or alone, if you’re feeling bold)? So what if you’re busy? Exercise relieves stress, even the kind produced from too much shopping. What’s more, it can also build muscle and raise your body’s metabolism, nipping weight gain in the bud. And knowing how hard you’ve been sweating at the gym might make you feel less tempted to throw it all away on another handful of candy corn. So go build a snowman already.
10. Donate food-related gifts to charity. Avoid all the calories, and do something nice. Look around — there’s bound to be someone organizing a food drive.
11. Donate food-related gifts to people you owe gifts to. Better their thighs than yours.
12. Have a mantra. When all else fails, a little chanting can’t hurt: “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
Remember, the rules of good nutrition are about more than just maintaining a fit physique. Healthy eating also helps us feel our best: relaxed, clearheaded, and ready to enjoy the winter months ahead.
So this season, enjoy your company, enjoy the festivities, and have your cake … just don’t eat two pieces.
Editor's note: This article was updated with information relevant to 2018.
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