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Enjoying the Holidays Sensibly

I love the holiday season.  However, I’m also mindful that this time of year usually brings additional occasions to indulge in our favorite foods and beverages.  Just for the record – one of my favorite foods during the holidays is Strawberry Pretzel salad.  This sweet and salty concoction of pretzels, cream cheese, strawberries, strawberry gelatin, and whipped topping doesn’t come close to being a “salad” and it is far from being healthy.    But I digress…..

With all the extra opportunities to eat and drink, one might wonder how the holidays influence the bathroom scale.  Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of research on this subject.  However, what has been published suggests that the average weight gain during the holidays isn’t as much as we might think, only about one to two pounds a year.  Sounds like good news, right?  Don’t reach for that second piece of pecan pie just yet (which, by the way, has about 500 calorie per slice).  Even though the weight gain is small, some of the research suggests that most people don’t return to their pre-holiday weight once the new year begins.  This means over time, those pounds can add up.

As a registered dietitian I know the caloric consequences that come with holiday parties, secret Santa goodies, and neighborhood cookie exchanges.  Yet, like most people, I want to take part in the festivities and enjoy the holidays without feeling guilty or without worrying about my waistline.  If that sounds impossible, these tips may be just what you need to get you through the upcoming holiday parties:

  1.  Plan your meals and snacks to allow for holiday indulges.  If you have a party to go to in the evening, budget your calories accordingly.  Eat lighter during the day and have a healthy snack before the party to fend off hunger.  They goal is not to go to the party hungry or else you may overeat.
  2. Stay away from the food table.  The temptation to eat is often stronger when food is within reach.  Find a spot away from the food and focus on spending time with family and friends.
  3. Offer to contribute to the food festivities.  If you are going to a holiday gathering, offer to bring something (preferably on the healthy side).  Fresh vegetables with low-fat dressing or a seasonal fruit tray can help counter some of the higher fat, higher calorie options.
  4. Be choosy.  At social gatherings, don’t feel like to you have to eat everything that is offered.  If you are going to splurge (calorie wise), do so on the foods and beverages that you don’t eat very often.  Perhaps that is why I don’t feel guilty when I eat my Strawberry Pretzel salad – I only eat it twice a year and thoroughly enjoy every calorie!
  5. Watch the alcohol.  Liquid calories can sneak up on you in more ways than one.  If you are going to drink alcohol, skip the eggnog (320 calories per cup) and have a 5-ounce glass of white wine (120 calories) instead.   If you drink more than one alcohol-containing beverage, space them out by consuming diet soda and other non-calorie drinks in between.  And don’t forget the designated driver!
  6. Remember to exercise.  For many people, the holiday season is a stressful time of the year.  To help manage stress, plan to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day.  Not only is this a great way to manage stress, it is also a great way to burn off those extra holiday calories.

From our family to yours, have a happy and safe holiday season and a happy and healthy 2013!


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