Eat Well to Be Well: Avoid holiday weight gain

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … but not necessarily if you’re watching your waistline. How do you get through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s without feeling as stuffed as the turkey? Gaining weight during the holiday season doesn’t have to be inevitable. But, it is important for you to know how to take control of your eating habits during this time rather than all the holiday parties and family get-togethers taking control of you.

Don’t skip meals – Many people believe if they skip breakfast or lunch they can save up all of those calories for the holiday party that night. It sounds like a good idea but skipping meals can make you crabby and tired besides making you very hungry. If you arrive at a party on an empty stomach surrounded by high calorie treats, it’s easy to turn into a raving eating-machine and consume more calories than the ones you skipped earlier in the day.

Eat high fiber foods before the party – Snack on fiber-filled foods just before you go. Fiber helps you feel full preventing you from eating more at the party. Choose foods such as crisp, fresh vegetables, fruit, a small salad or a small bowl of oatmeal.

Eat small amounts of food you love – Scope out the food selection at the party when you arrive before you make any choices. It’s okay to choose small portions of items like cookies, pie or chocolates, but fill up the majority of your plate with healthy vegetables, fruit, whole grain crackers, cheese and lean meats.

Don’t hang around the buffet table – It isn’t easy to resist the delicious foods you find on the buffet at a party, so get away from the table! Choose your foods and drink and move to a different part of the room. As they say – out of sight, out of mind.

Pace yourself – When friends and family gather at a meal, the food is usually piled high on most everyone’s plate. You wolf down the first plate and pick out more of your favorites to gobble down as second helpings. Slow down. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is getting full. Set your fork down between bites, chew your food thoroughly, and sip some water. Sit down while you eat. This prevents grazing around the food table. Enjoy the company of the people around you at the party. Getting caught up in conversation is a great way to avoid overeating.

Limit your alcohol and calorie-laden beverage intake – It’s fun to try different beverages at a party, but remember you can quickly gulp down more calories than you realize. Start off with a non-calorie beverage to help fill you up initially before trying a beverage with calories.

Learn healthy ways to modify holiday recipes – Favorite holiday recipes can easily be modified to reduce the fat and calorie amounts without compromising flavor. When a recipe calls for oil in cake, brownies or muffins, a good substitution can be equal amounts of a fruit puree such as applesauce. The fruit will add flavor, moisture and tenderness to the baked good. Cocoa powder can be used in place of unsweetened baking chocolate. Use 2 tablespoon of cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon of regular or diet margarine in place of every 1 ounce of the chocolate. In place of whole fat milk products, substitute fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese.

The National Weight Control Registry examined strategies of people who were successful at either controlling or even losing weight during the holiday season. What they found was that people who avoided gaining weight during this time maintained an active exercise routine, weighed themselves daily, controlled their eating environment and paid attention to their eating habits. By adopting those practices, you’ll sail through the holidays with little to no weight gain. The most important thing is to savor the food you do eat (just not too much!) and thoroughly enjoy time spent with family and friends during this wonderful season.

Here are a couple of recipes to try out during the holidays. The first is a personal family favorite that with just a few tweaks can be turned into a healthier recipe. The primary ingredient is sweet potatoes. One sweet potato is packed with potassium and fiber in addition to containing enough beta-carotene to meet your daily need of vitamin A and nearly a third of vitamin C.

Sweet Potato Souffle

makes 10-12 servings

6-8 large sweet potatoes

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

¼ cup flour

4 eggs and 4 egg whites

2 ½ tbsp vanilla

1 ½ cups of skim milk

1. Boil sweet potatoes until soft with the peeling on. When soft, drain, cool and peel.

2. Mash potatoes in a large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, butter, eggs, flour, milk and vanilla to the mashed potatoes, mixing well.

3. Pour into baking dish sprayed with cooking spray

4. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until soufflé is set.

What holiday season is complete without fudge? This second recipe is fudge that uses peanut butter, peanuts and dark chocolate. Peanut butter and peanuts are good sources of protein and provide healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats helping to decrease the risk of heart disease. The dark chocolate is in the form of dark cocoa powder, which is rich in flavonoids that can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Fudge

serves 25

1 (14 oz) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk, divided ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 tbsp. unsweetened dark cocoa powder

¼ tsp. instant coffee granules

1 tsp. vanilla, divided

¾ cup peanut butter chips

1 tbsp. peanut butter

¼ cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with wax paper. Place 9 tablespoons of milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Add chocolate chips, cocoa and coffee. Microwave at HIGH for 1 minute or until melted. Stir in ½ tsp. vanilla. Spread into prepared pan.

2. Combine the remaining milk, peanut butter chips and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 1 minute or until melted. Stir in remaining ½ tsp. vanilla. Spread evenly over chocolate layer, and sprinkle with peanuts. Cover and chill 2 hours. Cut into 25 squares.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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