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Simple Steps to Help You Eat Healthier this Holiday Season

Two women cooking.

From mid-November until the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, it seems not even Santa’s reindeer can outrun the trays of cookies, plates of pies and glasses of holiday cheer that are heaped upon us every holiday season. From work parties to social celebrations and family meals, calorie-laden temptations abound.

 

“Between the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s easy to lose track of the time needed to prepare healthy dishes. Also, gatherings frequently revolve around food. Peer pressure and constant food availability naturally makes it easy to over-eat,” said Millie Smith, a registered dietitian at Atrium Health Navicent.

 

While most Americans gain between 7 and 10 pounds during November and December, there are ways to keep the party going while still maintaining healthy habits, and they don’t necessarily mean completely giving up the foods you love.

 

“I like to encourage everything in moderation! During the holidays, you can still enjoy traditional foods, or nostalgic foods that may be passed down from generations, but look for ways to decrease overall fat and calories, either through simple recipe swaps or through smaller serving sizes. By incorporating other food items on the table as well, you can indulge in smaller amounts,” Smith said.

 

Ingredient swaps

 A great way to prevent weight gain during the holidays is to enjoy healthier versions of your favorite sweets. Try swapping:

  • Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or heavy cream

  • Yogurt, applesauce or pureed pumpkin or banana instead of butter and oils

  • Flavored water instead of eggnog, punch or alcoholic drinks

  • Chopped fruits instead of fruit pies

  • Dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate

  • Fruit, such as applesauce and bananas, instead of refined sugar.

 

“I encourage people to use ingredient swaps cautiously. If it changes the taste or texture of the recipe too much, you may end up frustrated and just eating more to try to satisfy that taste,” Smith said.

 

Simple strategies

 Before heading to the dessert table, here are a few strategies for making better choices:

  • Try to stay active at least 20 minutes each day, even if it’s just taking a walk around the block.

  • Drink a glass of water before attending gatherings. This helps you stay hydrated, and can also contribute to fullness.

  • Put healthier options at the beginning of the serving line, and place less healthy options at the end of the table. 

  • Try serving smaller portions of desserts.

  • Stand up. If you sit the entire time, you’re much more likely to “graze” and mindlessly eat.

 

“Even if you overindulge, this is not a time for guilt, but a time to examine choices and start fresh the next day,” Smith said.

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