Written by: American Heart Association
For many people, the holidays are full of traditions that can get even the best eating plans off track.
“The key is to avoid going so far off track that you have to start over once New Year’s Day rolls around,” said Jamie Walker, a registered dietitian for Lake Health Integrative Medicine.
Just like the rest of the year, maintaining consistency is important, she said. “Get your healthy breakfasts and lunches in and if dinners look different during the holidays, that’s OK.”
Walker said many clients make the mistake of going to extremes during the holidays.
“They get busy and stressed and think, well I don’t have time to eat healthy or exercise and then they just go off the deep end,” she said.
One effective strategy to avoid overdoing it during the holidays is to eat mindfully, Walker said.
“It’s not just about thinking what to eat or what not to eat, it’s about thinking about how we are eating,” she said.
Here are some strategies for eating mindfully that Walker recommends:
Don’t skip meals to “save up calories.” Arriving at an event starving opens the door to over-eating. Instead, eat healthy meals during the day and stay hydrated to avoid overdoing it.
Slow down. Ever eat so fast that you can’t remember what it tastes like? If you’re indulging in a treat, take your time and enjoy every bite.
Step away. It’s easy to eat without thinking if we’re standing by a table full of tantalizing bites. Choose your favorite item, then walk away or drink a glass of water to keep from eating mindlessly.
Sip wisely. The calories in holiday drinks can add up. Staying hydrated is important. So, drink plenty of water throughout the day and swap sugar-laden drinks for a slimmed down version. A glass of wine contains about 100 calories, while a cup of eggnog is three times that amount at 343 calories, and that’s without any added alcohol.
Make smart swaps. In general, you can cut fat, sugar and salt by about a third without anyone noticing. Walker suggests using plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream for dips or jazzing up fiber-rich bean dips, which can help you feel full. And fruit purees, such as applesauce or canned pumpkin, are a great swap for oil or butter for many baked items.
If a dish doesn’t seem flavorful enough with less salt, try adding a substitute spice, being careful not to add so much that it drastically alters the taste.
Love green bean casserole? Skip the cream of mushroom soup and fried onion topping and get the crunch from toasted slivered almonds instead.
If the favorite family stuffing is made with cornbread and sausage, consider reducing the amount of sausage or simply substituting mushrooms or nuts for the meat.
Serve mashed potatoes if that’s your family’s tradition. But for a healthy and different side, also offer mashed turnips or mashed cauliflower.
Take stock. Walker suggests checking in with yourself before you eat and part way through the meal. Ask yourself, ‘Am I hungry?’ Before you get seconds, ask, “Am I starting to get full?” It’s harder to overindulge if you’re really thinking about it.
Plate strategy. Focus on healthy, fiber-rich foods by allotting half your plate to vegetables and fruit, and the remaining half to whole grains and protein. If you’re worried about overfilling, use a smaller plate. This is not the time to be worrying about weighing out food.
Focus on what you love. “You don’t have to choose a little of everything,” Walker said. “Just choose the foods you really like.”
Put treats away. It’s hard to resist bowls filled with sweets or platters of holiday cookies. Instead, take them out for an event, but don’t leave them out the whole month.