Eat, drink, and be healthy this holiday season

‘Tis the season for parties, family festivities, office goodies, and holiday cheer. With food playing center stage for so many of us, we shouldn't allow it to get the best of us.

I've always advocated for participating in holiday events instead of abstaining. While it can often feel difficult to enjoy the holidays without gaining weight, I believe that you can partake in festivities and enjoy some of your holiday favorites without derailing your diet and your health.

Here are ten of my favorite holiday hacks to make this your healthiest holiday season ever.

1. Don't diet.

I am always impressed when a new client comes to see me for nutrition counseling during the holiday season. If she/he is looking to lose weight, my typical response is: let's focus on maintenance during the holidays and we can begin to work on losing weight after the holidays.

Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas, holidays are holidays, and each one comes with food rituals which are OK to partake in. Of course, not in excess.

2. Stick to a routine.

One of the best ways to deal with the holiday festivities is to stick to a regular eating and exercise routine as best as possible. While it may be difficult to stick to a routine on some days, accept it, and try sticking to your routine on most days. For me, that means taking a vinyasa yoga class or swimming while choosing healthy foods most of the time. I do, however, always leave some wiggle room for my favorite holiday treats (yes, I love apple cobbler!) which I enjoy in thoughtful portions.

3. Plan for a treat.

Yes, you can enjoy holiday food, be it potato latkes for Chanukah or eggnog for Christmas. The trick: legalize it and incorporated it into your plan. My clients do much better when they allow themselves to enjoy a treat without fretting. The caveat: choose one favorite indulgence per meal and eat well the rest of the time.

4. Choose red.

Red is a festive color, so why not eat off of red plates this holiday season. Research found that people ate less snack food when eating off of a red plate than from a blue or white one. Thirsty? Similar results were found for beverages. Participants drank less from a red cup than from a blue cup. If you are the host, why not give it a try! The authors suggest that the color red may work as a subtle stop signal (like a red traffic light) which may guide us to reduce our intake.

5. Eat more, weigh less.

Good news if you are a volume lover. As I referred to them in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, volume eaters like a large portion of food. A solution: fill up on fruits and veggies which tend to be fairly low in calories (while also being nutritious.) Good options include berries, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli, and tomato- or broth-based soups. Begin your meal with a large salad. Just ask for the dressing on the side. This is a good message during the holidays and beyond—fill half of your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. You will never feel deprived.

6. Make your home portion friendly.

While you can’t control the rich holiday foods at a party or the large trays of cookies and candy at the office, you can control what goes on in your home. Remember this mantra--What you have in your house is what you will eat. Fill your home with a large variety of healthy fruits and vegetables, keep single servings of snack foods in the kitchen in case you get the munchies, and eat off of grandma’s smaller dishes. Store cookies in opaque containers and keep a fruit bowl out on the counter. These tips can be truly effective. And skip these portion pitfalls which can easily derail your diet.

7. Do a lap around the buffet.

I’m sure that you attend at least a holiday party or two where the food is served buffet style. At a buffet, scan and plan, instead of just diving in fork first. Check out what foods are being served and decide which options look best to you. Grab a plate and fill it mainly with healthy options (vegetables like crudités and salads, and healthy proteins like beans or grilled fish or chicken) and enjoy a small portion of one or two of your favorite treats. And finally, sit down and enjoy your meal. And, please do not eat standing and do not pick, s you may not even realize that you’ve even eaten.

8. Get social.

Remember why you went to a holiday party in the first place. It probably wasn’t for the food, but rather the good company. Enjoy friends and family and engage with them. Don’t make food the most important part of the gathering. When you arrive at a party, instead of running toward the buffet table, do a lap around and say hi to those around you.

9. Sip smart.

Who doesn’t love an occasional glass of wine at a holiday party? The calories add up quickly when we use oversize goblets, which is the norm these days.

New research from University of Cambridge found that wine glasses today are seven times bigger than they were 300 years ago. YIKES! And you know what that means—we end up drinking more. And, we probably don’t even realize it.

Want a glass of wine without excessive calories? Pour it into a smaller wine glass and you will probably drinking less.

10. Relax!

During the busy holiday season with life moving often at a frenetic pace, it’s good to slow down and chill. Take a yoga or meditation class, listen to your favorite music, or take a bath and drizzle in your favorite aromatherapy oil. A great way to beat stress is to spend some time outside in nature. Even if it's chilly where you live, bundle up, and go for a walk in the park or a bike ride. There’s always tomorrow!

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy—and healthy—holiday season.

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