No one is sugarcoating the hard truth — it is difficult to manage your weight and stick to a healthy diet during the holidays. Traditions of eating large amounts of high-calorie foods combined with the stresses of the season make a big difference. Cheryl Marco, RD, CDE, who works in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases at Thomas Jefferson University, shares nine hints, tips, and tricks to keep your weight in check:
1. Pack a snack for the mall. Marco says parties aren’t the only source of weight management challenges at the holidays. “The malls can also be tough,” she says. “When you’re out shopping, all those delicious smells can be really tempting.” How can you ensure that you stay satisfied while on the go? Marco recommends bringing along a high-protein snack bar. Just be sure that you buy a one that offers at least 10 to 15 grams of protein per serving, she says.
2. Make a plan for parties. When it comes to holiday gatherings, Marco says she would be less concerned about what you eat – and more focused on how much. “I encourage my patients to take an index card and write down what they’re going to consume at a party,” she says. “That way, before you even arrive, you’ve already made a commitment to moderation.”
3. Put pennies in your pocket. Marco says it’s virtually impossible for humans to keep track of how much we consume. So once you’ve made your plan for, say, how many hors d’oeuvres you’ll have, put that number of pennies in one pocket. As you consume each serving, move a penny to the opposite pocket. “That way, it will be very clear when it’s time to stop,” she says.
4. Reconsider high-calorie traditions. Many people have a longstanding tradition of holiday baking. If that’s part of your annual ritual, Marco suggests you at least question the tradition: “Reconsider how important it is to bake. Who are you really doing it for? What is the benefit of having those kinds of foods around the house?” If you simply love the act of making cookies and other desserts, have a solid plan for how many you’ll personally eat and, just as important, decide how you’ll distribute the goodies.
5. Use small plates and bowls. Marco says that eating foods from large serving bowls can be dangerous. “Again, there’s really no natural stopping point,” she notes. “You’re much better off putting a small portion of food into a separate bowl. Then you can simply stop eating once it’s empty.” Similarly, she suggests opting for the smallest plate you can find at a party. “That way, even if you fill it, you won’t be consuming as much as you would with a larger dish,” she explains.
6. Think as you drink. When it comes to alcohol, Marco again emphasizes the importance of planning ahead. She recommends writing down how many drinks you’ll have in a given night. And, whenever possible, she advises not to begin drinking an alcoholic beverage until after you’ve ordered your dinner. “Alcohol lowers our inhibitions,” she says, “which means if you’re drinking right away, you’re more likely to overindulge in food.” Of course, by delaying your first drink, you’re also likely to reduce your total intake.
7. Make every bite matter. Marco isn’t necessarily a fan of substitutions, such as using fruit purees instead of butter. Instead, she recommends controlling quantity – and then savoring every bite. “Go for the foods that are really special,” she suggests. “Why go to a party and eat handfuls of potato chips? We all know what those taste like. Instead, go for something that’s different.”
8. Feed yourself regularly. That advice may seem counterintuitive, but Marco says under-eating causes overeating. So when you’re running out to shop or even heading to a party, she suggests consuming something high in protein – a hard-boiled egg, one of those high-protein snack bars or even plain Greek yogurt. She also encourages people to plan ahead for meals at home to avoid high-fat, high-calorie take-out.
9. And, last but not least, weigh yourself every day. Marco says it’s important to weigh yourself during the holidays and even into the post-holiday season. “It’s easy to catch three pounds – and much harder to catch eight or 10,” she notes. She adds that she finds the biggest weight challenges often come after the holiday, “once the ‘relief’ sets in. I see more weight gain in January and February than in December.” So, be sure to have a post-holiday eating plan, too!
Use these practical tips to eat smart – and still enjoy yourself – during the holidays!