Your Monthly Check-Up: Tips for Staying on Track During the Holidays

The statistics are all over the board: one study says the average American gains seven to 10 pounds over the holidays; another claims five to seven. A third assures that these are exaggerated; that people only gain an average of one pound after the merriment is over. But we can be sure of this – the amount of salt, fat, sweets and food in general that we consume between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is totally ramped up.

Well, fear not. Hinda is here to put your every holiday consumption worry and woe to rest in this month’s installment of “Your Monthly Check-Up.” Here we will outline a few tips and tricks to stay on track and avoid overdoing it come November 28. From planning ahead to portion control to post-pig-out exercise, consider this your cheat sheet to maintaining your weight and your health this holiday season.

In this month’s issue of Healthy Living Made Simple, a publication by Sam’s Club®, registered dietitian and nutritionist Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, shares a variety of healthy baking substitutes, low-cal libations and portion control tips in her article “Holiday Eating Made Easy.”

As with most tough situations, the best defense is a good offense. “It’s all about being prepared,” says McDaniel, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Prepare prior to the party, at the event and during the day after.”

Do this by eating extra-healthy breakfasts and lunches on days before you plan to attend an evening holiday gathering. Load up on fiber-rich fruit and protein-packed snacks like string cheese, almonds, yogurt or edamame. At about 100 calories for a snack portion, one of these healthy choices will tide you over until you get to your party. Once you arrive, McDaniel says to “survey the scene” before hitting the buffet and only choose the items you like the best. This way you can enjoy your favorite indulgences without overstuffing yourself with less-delicious options!

We are obviously kidding ourselves when we say that calories consumed during a holiday meal don’t count – when holiday season stretches for over a month, those calories sure add up! “One of the reasons it’s so easy to overeat at a party is because we have no clue how many calories we’ve consumed,” McDaniel says. Be proactive about your calorie intake by mindfully taking smaller portions – about 20 percent less than you think you might want – watching beverage calories and even sitting next to a slow eater. Also, staying hydrated throughout the season (and always) is never a bad idea.

Speaking of beverage calories, keep in mind that five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of light beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor all contain about 120 calories – and that’s before you start adding mixers. McDaniel offers some tips that let you enjoy your favorite holiday cocktails without consuming all the calories. Do you love wine? Why not try a wine spritzer by mixing half a glass of your favorite grape with club soda! Looking for something non-alcoholic? Make a cranberry crush by adding a splash of cranberry cocktail and frozen grapes to your club soda. Or make healthier hot chocolate by combining cocoa powder, skim milk, low-calorie sweetener and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract. All of the decadence, none of the guilt!

For those of you who have a sweet tooth, the holidays – when cookies, candy and chocolate abound – can be particularly challenging. McDaniel suggests making some swaps while baking to ensure that your treats turn out just as yummy sans unwanted calories.

For example, white flour can be swapped or cut with whole wheat flour, ground oats or almond meal for a dose of healthy. Replace sugar with honey or stevia. Get rid of that butter and oil and use applesauce, mashed banana or coconut oil. Use applesauce or flax meal to replace eggs. Carob chips or dark chocolate chunks stand in for chocolate chips and plain Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream. Try a few of these swaps and we bet you – and your guests – won’t even notice the difference. (Editorial note: This blogger can attest to the validity of the applesauce and Greek yogurt swaps!)

Finally, as all good things must come to an end, so must your holiday revelry. After all, the holidays wouldn’t be so special if we ate and celebrated like that every month! “Avoid the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy,” says McDaniel. “Even if you overeat one night, the whole weekend doesn’t have to be a diet bust.” She suggests getting up the next morning, going for a walk and eating a healthy breakfast to start getting yourself back on track.

“Don’t beat yourself up over one overindulgent event,” she says. You’ll ruin all the memories of the delicious food and fun with friends and family if you’re down on yourself the next day. It’s the holidays! We all overdo it! The point is it doesn’t have to derail all the dieting good you’ve done for yourself earlier in the year.

Enjoy yourself, take care of your health and have a happy holiday season!