If you Google “how to eat healthy during holidays,” you will get hundreds of tips and tricks eager to help you avoid packing on the holiday pounds. And they really mean well. I know when I hear “holiday weight gain,” I picture all of us blowing up like blimps with an extra 15-20lbs by January.
Luckily, it’s not that crazy. Recent studies show that the average amount of weight gained in America over the holidays is 1-2lbs per person (from mid-November thru mid-January). In fact, less than 10% of people gained more than 5lbs. So, first of all, it’s not as bad as we think it is. Second of all, even though those people have well-intentioned advice, almost none of it does me any good when piles of cookies comes calling. Here are a few of them I’ve heard over the years: stick to your healthy-eating-guns; eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.; don’t go back for seconds at the buffet; only eat off the vegetable platter at parties; bring healthy food to the potluck.
I’m sure there are billions of other tips, but those are the ones I hear most often. Now. Let me tell you why I think they’re useless.
1. Stick to your healthy-eating-guns
This “helpful” tip involves not only depriving yourself of yummy holiday treats, but it also involves you turning down generous food offers from your hosts and hostesses. They just want you to try some of the pie they spent hours making – they’re not trying to sabotage your life. I know exactly what this rule is based in. It is based on the thought that we are a horrible society because we celebrate all joyous occasions with food (i.e. birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc.). Apparently, that is the root of all evil. But I say this: cultures that were around eons before us celebrated with food. Romans, Mayans, Celts, Vikings, etc. All major events involved banquets of some sort. So you know what? Ignore this tip. It is dumb and completely un-fun.
2. Eat an apple before you go to a party/dinner/etc.
Um. What? You want me to eat an apple before a party and that is magically going to make the 5 plates of cookies look disgusting? I don’t think it works that way. I understand. The science behind this tip makes sense. Eat an apple, which will fill you up with healthy fiber, then you’ll be too full to nosh on yummies at the party. Makes good sense. It, however, has never worked for me. Even if eat a full sensible meal before a party, I still end up eating a bunch of stuff at a party. It’s a party!! So my rule for this is a tad bit different. If I’m already getting hunger pangs before I leave, I grab a small healthy snack like nuts or fruit. That way I’m not starving when I get to the land of food temptation. However, if I’m not hungry, I won’t grab a snack. Because I’m not hungry. See. That makes sense, too.
3. Don’t go back for seconds at the buffet
Now this just breaks my southern girl heart. People, it’s a buffet. All that food is just lying there for the taking. I want to take it. Not going back for seconds hurts my soul a little bit. So I have other tricks I use when facing the buffet table (I’ll talk about those a little later in the post).
4. Only eat off the vegetable platter at parties
Um, no. When host/hostess spends X amount of hours preparing his/her signature crab dip or pumpkin cheese log, you better believe I’m going to show my appreciation and dig in. Honestly, I’m not even sure that vegetable platters belong at holiday parties…
5. Bring healthy food to the potluck
This actually isn’t that bad of a tip. You could certainly bring a healthy dish along to ensure that you have something good for you. But…is anybody going to eat it (besides you)? See, here’s the thing. I love to cook and bake FOR other people. So if I brought a uber-healthy dish to a potluck (steamed green beans anyone?) and nobody ate any…well…I would feel like a failure. I want my food to make people happy. My advice is if you want to bring a healthy dish to a potluck, make it a sneakily healthy one. You know, sneak some pureed veggies into the sauce or bake some goodies with whole wheat flour and flaxseed. Nobody will ever know.
So those are tips that (I think) don’t work so well. Now here are some of the things I keep in mind over the holiday season:
1. Keep Moving!
The holiday season is crazy-busy. We all know that. And we all know that when life gets insanely busy, the first thing out the window is exercise. Don’t let that happen! The most important thing about exercise is that it makes you feel good about yourself. So if you quit moving during the holidays, you’ll just end up as the love child of Mr. Scrooge and the Grinch. Of course, holidays may be so busy that you have to forgo gym time. And that is okay. Instead, try parking really far away from the mall entrance while Christmas shopping. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator (or climb the escalator instead of just riding!) If you are going on vacation somewhere, try to keep moving there as well. Most hotels have even the tiniest gym nowadays…and if you’re staying with family, take a morning or evening walk around the neighborhood. *Bonus* Evening walks mean looking at Christmas lights!!
2. Never Deprive
Always remember: this is the holiday season. It is special. So go ahead and make those cookies that you only make once a year. Eat those pies that you have to wait 11 months for again. Just remember to keep it in moderation. You probably don’t need a quarter of the pie in one sitting. I promise, if you start depriving yourself for whatever reason, you’ll become a not-nice-person and you might just end up gorging on the whole pie at midnight anyway.
3. But Not Every Day is a Holiday
Sure, the holiday season spans just over a month. But there are only a few actual holidays in there. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean every single day should be a festival of sugar and fat. During family events, parties, and the real holidays, go ahead and enjoy all the wonderful things that have become traditional. But during your daily routine? Try to pack in those vegetables you’re missing out on. Keep it to one or two cookies instead of a plateful. Besides, if you eat like Thanksgiving everyday…Thanksgiving won’t be special anymore.
4. Don’t Eat It if You Don’t Love It
This rule is a little tricky for me to follow. Mostly because there aren’t a lot of holiday treats I don’t love. But the concept is pretty simple. Only indulge in the foods you truly love. Don’t eat Aunt Miriam’s strange mincemeat cookies if you don’t like them. I know she made it from an old family recipe, but if she’s not standing in front of you staring at you with soulful puppy dog eyes…she’ll never know. Here’s my example: I love love love classic sugar cookies. And I only love gingerbread cookies. So instead of having 2 of each kind, I’ll usually just choose 2 sugar cookies. And also, I’m not super crazy about pecan pie, so I don’t even include it in my slivers of pie on Thanksgiving. There is no rule that says you HAVE to eat something just because it’s there.
5. Dessert Once
This one is hard. But it’s an easy rule to follow. Unless we’re talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas day (where dessert happens whenever you want it to), I try to stick to one dessert a day. That means that if I decide to have milk and cookies for my afternoon snack, I won’t have them again (or pie, or cake, etc.) after dinner. Since I’m a BIG fan of sugar, this rule really helps me cut down on what could be massive sugar highs.
6. Cook/Bake Sneaky-Like
Again with the cooking and baking, Candace! Yes, yes. I know. But if you can cook and/or bake even a little bit, you have so much control over your food! I take extreme control when it comes to the holidays. I’m all for keeping all of the traditional flavors of the holidays. But I ask you this: does EVERY dish really need a whole stick of butter? Probably not. Here’s a couple of really easy swaps I make that nobody even notices:
- Use chicken stock in place of most of the cream/milk in mashed potatoes
- Use skim/lowfat milk when making the green bean casserole
- Read labels on the dinner rolls (make sure no yucky trans-fat, colors, preservatives, etc.)
- Don’t eat the skin on the turkey (I think it’s gross anyway)
- Use olive oil instead of butter when sautéing ingredients for the stuffing
Of course, you could also add some new dishes to the table, too. Try roasting some squash with a little cinnamon. Super simple and delish. Also, root veggies make a really easy, tasty roast. Just mix some cubed beets, parsnips, and carrots and roast at 400 for about 30 minutes. Toss them with a honey-maple vinaigrette and you have yummies ready to go.
7. Befriend the Buffet…and then go away.
Don’t be afraid of the buffet. It’s just a table full of food. Not scary at all. Go ahead. Pick up a plate. Now, put just a little bit of each dish you want to try on there. Good. Now. Turn around. Walk all the way to the other side of the room. That’s right. That’s my buffet rule. Get away from it! I’m 100% for trying all the tasty offerings on a buffet. But if I’m within arm’s reach, I will just keep eating and eating and eating. So I try to position myself as far away from the food as I can. That way, when I want seconds, I have to REALLY want them in order to venture back to the table. Bam. Mindless snacking avoided AND I get to try a little bit of everything.
So there you have it. Some of my personal rules for making it through the holidays without hating myself or buying new pants. I have no idea if you will like any of them, but I hope they help. My only plea to you is to PLEASE enjoy the holidays and all the traditions that come with it.
Stay tuned for my Thanksgiving blog…when I tell you all how these tips didn’t help me at all…
(But, no, really. I’m going to tell you all about how I kept my Thanksgiving “Real World Healthy” as soon as I recover from the food coma.)