Healthy Eating for the Holiday Season – Eat without Guilt

by Naomi Tupper on December 5, 2012 · 0 comments

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With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us can already see our healthy eating habits flying out the window and the holiday pounds piling on.  The festive time of year is notorious for heavy, calorie laden food and lots of it, more than the odd glass of wine and just not having time or the energy to hit the gym.

Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to enjoy yourself and let your hair down a little to celebrate the end of another year, there are ways to minimize weight gain and maintain your healthy eating habits throughout the season.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start the New Year without a resolution to lose the five pounds of weight you have gained over Christmas?

Here are some ways to avoid the Christmas bulge and start the New Year feeling healthy and confident.

Avoid party binges

Throughout the festive season, there are numerous parties, family events, lunches and dinners to attend, most of which are not exactly diet friendly.  Not only do we have no control over the food we are served, there are usually a huge amount of holiday foods to choose from that don’t make an appearance for the rest of the year, making them twice as tempting.

There is also a tendency to eat mindlessly without really paying attention to what goes in your mouth whilst enjoying the company of others and a few glasses of wine.  To avoid these party blow outs it may be helpful to follow these party eating tips:

Step away from the food

At a buffet style party it is easy to find yourself migrating to the food tables and putting down roots for the night not more than a step or two away.  This makes it a lot easier to get to the food, but also means you are likely to eat more, by constantly picking at food or trying just a little more.

To avoid this, try to stand as far away from the food as possible, preferably with it out of eyesight too.  Take a plate and choose a reasonable healthy quantity and selection of foods on offer, then step away and do not return unless you are really still hungry.

Also be aware of strategically placed snack foods such as bowls of chips or nuts that are easily dived into from time to time if you are standing too close.

Eat a healthy meal beforehand

If you know you are going to a party or food related event where you are likely to over indulge a little, it is a good idea to compensate a little for this in the rest of your daily food intake.  This does not mean skipping lunch in order to pack as much food in as possible at the party, but instead choosing low calorie, nutritious options that still fill you up.

Going to a party hungry is the best way to overeat on unhealthy foods, as when you are starving you are less discerning about what you are eating and also tend to eat large quantities fast.  A healthy, low fat lunch featuring lean protein, low calorie vegetables and whole grain carbohydrates can keep you full and stop overeating later on.  It also provides nutrients you may not get from the less healthy food at the party.  By choosing a low calorie option you are also leaving a little leeway for a few extra calories later.

It may also be useful to have a healthy snack before the event to stave off any signs of hunger.  A piece of fruit or a low fat yogurt may be exactly what you need to avoid making a beeline for the chip bowl as soon as you arrive.

Make the treats you choose worth it

Part of the fun of the festive season is enjoying foods you don’t have in the rest of the year, and it is fine to indulge in a few treats.  However, if you want to fit into your new year’s outfit, it is best to limit yourself to the ones you really love.

Eat these treats slowly and enjoy every minute knowing that you won’t have them again until the following year.  Really think about which foods are the ones that you look forward to all year and which you could take or leave before diving in.

Choose lighter options where possible

If attending a festive lunch or dinner at a restaurant, it may be possible to make lighter choices that are kinder to the waist line.  Opt for salads and vegetable based dishes, order appetizers as an entree for smaller serves or share with a friend and avoid extras such as the bread basket for a lower calorie experience.

At someone’s home, it can be a bit more difficult to chose healthy options or make special requests, but if possible ask for a smaller serve, and fill your plate with healthier options such as salads and vegetables.

When faced with a buffet or finger foods, choose those foods based on vegetables, whole grains and lean meat, rather than fried foods, processed meats and pastry.  Desserts based on fresh fruit are usually the healthiest option.

Take a healthy plate

If you are going to an event which requires you to take a dish to share, make sure it is a healthy one.  This ensures that there is a least one healthy option to eat and you can be sure the other diners will appreciate it too!

Choose healthier festive treats and meals

The festive season does not have to be centred on high fat, high calorie foods.  There are plenty of healthier options that can replace the classics, or if you are very traditional, ways to modify them to produce healthier dishes.  Try these tips to cut the calories of your festive meals.

  • Choose low fat cooking methods such as grilling, baking and steaming, rather than frying or roasting in a lot of fat.
  • Always choose lower fat dairy options
  • Add less fat to dishes and add flavor with herbs and spices that add no extra calories
  • Choose healthier fats for cooking such as olive oil
  • Base desserts around fruit
  • Serve sauces and dressings on the side so everyone can choose how much they have.
  • Fill most of your plate with vegetables and fill up on these.
  • Make healthier Christmas gifts such as those based on dried fruit rather than high fat and sugar options such as fudge and toffee.  Alternatively choose gifts that are not based on food at all.
  • Search the internet for the numerous healthier alternatives and recipes to Christmas classics.

Drink in Moderation

Alcohol is high in calories and can therefore help to pile on the pounds over the festive season, when we are inclined to drink a bit more than normal.  Drinking alcohol can also cause us to overeat and be less selective about the foods we do choose.  To minimize this, have a non-alcoholic drink, preferably water, between each alcoholic one to rehydrate and minimize the effects of the alcohol as well as reducing the calories you consume.

Lower calorie alcoholic drink options include wine, wine spritzers or spirits with a low calorie mixer, so choose these options and steer clear of large beers, cocktails and soft drink style premixed drinks.  Where possible avoid punches, soft drinks, and large amounts of fruit juice as these are all packed full of calories.

Don’t abandon your exercise regime

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the festive season and exercise can be one of the things that falls by the wayside.  It is important to keep exercise as a priority in your life, even throughout this time of the year.

Exercise is a good way to unwind from the stress of the season, and also burn of those extra calories that have crept into your diet.  Although a trip to the gym may be the last thing you feel like after a big night out, a brisk walk in the fresh air or a refreshing dip in the pool can be just the thing to clear your head and brush off the hangover.  Just make sure you are well hydrated.

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Naomi Tupper
About the author

Naomi studied Nutrition and Dietetics and Biotechnology. She is a certified dietician with experience in Type 2 diabetes and menu planning for weight loss. Naomi is a contributor for our Diet and Nutrition sections. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

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