Holiday traditions often involve overeating, and trying to maintain healthy habits can be challenging. But making good decisions despite the abundance of holiday treats will make you feel even stronger and healthier as you cross into the New Year. In this blog, I’ll break down the some of the biggest temptations and talk about strategies for making it through the season. You can still be your own Health Hero™ during the holidays!
One of the biggest temptations is holiday drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Eggnog and hot chocolate can be extremely rich in sugars and fat (1). Parties can elevate your spirits in more ways than one. Not only are specialty cocktails high in calories, but they can also loosen your inhibitions when it comes to overeating (2). If you’re really aiming for Health Hero™ status this holiday season, switch it up with sparkling water between drinks. You can also try non-alcoholic versions of your favorite cocktails and substitute freshly squeezed juice instead of sugar (1).
The American Heart Association’s Holiday Healthy Eating Guide is full of great suggestions for healthy drink substitutions. Mix eggnog or hot chocolate with low-fat or skim milk, and pass on the whipped cream to shave off calories. You can also find non-dairy or low-fat versions of eggnog and hot chocolate in your grocery store, but be sure to check the sugar content (1). Cider is also high in sugar, so look for low-sugar options, or make it at home using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to add flavor without the calories (1).
Cooking during the holidays is a major activity for many families. It’s a great way to come together in the kitchen, but it’s also an easy way to get carried away with rich ingredients. This year, turn it around Health Hero™-style and make some “butter choices.” Below are some more suggestions from the American Heart Association’s Holiday Healthy Eating Guide (1):
- Use unsweetened applesauce instead of butter in baking recipes, and use vegetable oils or margarine when cooking.
- When a recipe calls for flour, use half white flour and half whole-wheat.
- Use low-fat or skim milk instead of cream or whole milk.
- Use sugar substitutes when baking, or just boost the flavor with extracts like vanilla, almond, or peppermint.
- Instead of chocolate chips or candies, use dried fruits like cranberries or cherries.
- Choose whole-grain breads, pastas, and rice.
- Steam, grill, or bake your veggies, or even eat them raw—just don’t fry them.
And don’t forget about salt, another ingredient that can contribute to poor health if used in excess. The good news is that holiday cooking only benefits from the use of herbs and spices to flavor dishes, so get creative! Another tip for salt: lots of recipes call for canned beans and veggies, which are high in sodium. Simply rinsing the beans or veggies before using them is an easy way to remove extra salt from your dish (1).
First of all, don’t skip meals just to indulge during the party, as you’ll be much more likely to overeat. That said, if you do end up overdoing it at one meal, don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply enjoy your party and plan to go light on your next meal. Remember, it takes eating an extra 3,500 calories per week to gain one pound, so that extra piece of pie isn’t enough to do you in (2).
Since Thanksgiving is first up, let’s talk turkey. Remove the skin and choose lighter pieces of meat, as they are lower in calories and fat than darker pieces. Be conscious of portions, especially with the dressing and mashed potatoes, and try to limit your gravy to a tablespoon. Dressing can be deceptively fatty, especially if it’s made with sausage and white bread or sweet rolls (1).
I know it’s a tradition to pile your plate high and go back for seconds, but this year, try to eat until you feel satisfied, not stuffed (2). Savor the flavor and enjoy the time you get to spend with friends and family instead!
While the season can be derailing, I’m rooting for you! Even with the best intentions, it helps to be realistic about the holidays. Plan for balance and don’t worry about trying to lose weight this season. Instead, try to maintain. If you can get in a bit of exercise—even a short walk at least once day—it can help offset the extra calories from holiday feasting (2). Most of all, enjoy all the season has to offer, and be good to yourself!