The holiday season presents several great opportunities to celebrate with coworkers, friends and family. Unfortunately, it also presents an opportunity for over-eating and weight gain. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health demonstrates that on average, Americans gain about five to twelve pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
But don't despair - there are ways of enjoying the variety of foods and drinks that abound at holiday parties while still keeping your weight in control. The key is to focus on a healthy balance of food, fun and activity. Here are some helpful tips for eating right at holiday parties, dinners and celebrations.
1. Eat at home beforehand.
Eating a small, lower-calorie meal or healthy snack of string cheese, nuts and a few whole-grain crackers before leaving home will not only keep you from arriving at the party famished, but it will also help limit your high-calorie food intake for the day. Drinking tea or water beforehand can also help keep you from overeating and drinking at a holiday gathering. If mealtime is much later than the arrival time, consider bringing your own meal if it wouldn't offend the host or volunteering to share something you've made yourself that you know is healthy.
2. Don’t stand near the buffet.
Most people find it difficult to resist the tasty treats they find on buffets at holiday parties. Choose a few things, then walk away - far away - so you aren’t tempted to pick constantly. Choose a few bites of your favorite treats and also some healthy options to keep your plate balanced.
3. Don’t rush to eat.
Holiday parties are about friends and family - which means your focus should be on your friends and your conversations, not on the food. Be sure to socialize and settle into the festivities before you eat. Implement the 15-minute rule, where you give yourself that much time to mingle and greet others before you begin the cocktails and food. You can even plan group activities with family and friends that aren’t all about food or help the host out with the dishes.
4. Be mindful of your beverages.
And not just alcohol - non-alcoholic beverages can be replete with sugar and calories. Even diet sodas often cause you to be more thirsty and hungry than if you were to just drink water. Look carefully at the ingredients in your beverages and stay away from sugar and artificial sweeteners.
When it comes to drinking alcohol, pace yourself. Start by drinking a glass of water to ensure that you satisfy your thirst first prior to drinking alcohol. A tasty and low-calorie holiday cocktail idea is to mix two ounces of wine with club-soda, a little cranberry juice and lemon juice for a wine-spritzer. Sip your cocktail slowly and try to drink a glass of water before you go for another.
5. Eat smaller portion sizes.
If you can, try to use a smaller plate to help keep your portion sizes down. For instance, you can use a salad plate and discipline yourself not to stack foods on top of each other. Or, fill your plate with vegetables before grabbing starches and carbs. Remember, even though there's a ton of food, you'll feel better if you eat to get satisfied and not stuffed.
6. Drink enough water.
Mild-dehydration can feel like hunger, so drinking plenty of water is essential. Hydrate before you arrive, in between drinks, with your meal and periodically throughout the rest of the day or evening.
7. Cook healthy alternatives to holiday dishes.
If you're hosting, include some healthier dishes along with everyone's favorite treats. You can for instance prepare a roasted turkey breast without the skin and save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3 oz. serving. Alternatively, you can cook fresh green beans with chucks of potatoes instead of using a can of creamed soup. Top your "casserole" with slivered almonds instead of fried onion rings.