Eating well, staying well for the holidays
It doesn't have to be feast or famine
We all look forward to enjoying great food throughout the holiday season. It seems that from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day there is almost no end to the temptations. There are family dinners, company celebrations, parties, football gatherings and always trays of treats in our kitchens or the lunchroom at work.
Good food -- and plenty of it -- just goes hand in hand with good times and good company. It's all part of our holiday traditions.
Overeating is easy, even hard to avoid. With that comes the dreaded -- almost obligatory -- extra pounds, often estimated to be about five to 10 pounds each holiday season.
But Martha Brown, clinical dietitian at Verde Valley Medical Center, says it doesn't have to be that way. We can enjoy the holiday cooking while watching our waistlines and our health.
Brown says the holiday weight gain really isn't as bad as we fear. Instead of putting on five pounds during the holidays, she said it is more likely about one pound each year. That's still significant. If no effort is made to lose that extra pound each year, we'll pick up the full 10 pounds with the passing of each decade.
The best way to enjoy our holidays without worrying about our health or our weight is to think in terms of high nutrients and low calories, according to Brown.
"It's finding the portion size that works for you," Brown said.
It also means making the most out of those portions. For example, a raw carrot is high in vegetable nutrients at a cost of only 25 to 50 calories.
Not many of us, however, will trade potatoes and gravy for a carrot. That's why controlling the size of our portions, especially on those holiday dishes we savor most, is vitally important. Brown says that people who are savvy about maintaining a healthy weight know that one of the secrets is to eat several small meals throughout the day instead of one big feast. That step alone helps control appetite.
Brown offers some common-sense tips to help us enjoy the holiday season without breaking out bathroom scales.
Eat breakfast: This goes along with the suggestion of eating several smaller meals during the day. Plus it gives the added advantage of using up calories to digest food several times rather than just once. You don't have to eat typical breakfast foods if you don't like them. Just make sure you have some nutritious food to start the day and get your metabolic engine running.
Control those portions: This is key to healthy eating during the holidays. Select a lean protein serving about the size of your palm, and then select a starch serving about the size of your closed fist. Fill the rest of your plate with low-carbohydrate vegetables, steamed and raw. Sauces for those veggies are OK as long as they're served on the side and eaten in small amounts.
Buffets and potlucks shouldn't really be all you can eat. Brown suggests offering to bring a dish to the potluck. That way, you know exactly what's in it and what the nutrition-to-calorie trade out is. Beyond that, she recommends using a small plate before going through the buffet line, a good way to force yourself to take smaller portions.
Other tricks that help people eat less at the potluck is to stand up while eating, and do your socializing away from the food display. And remember, you don't have to accept leftovers to take home.
Snack between big meals: If a big meal is planned for later than you usually eat, then think about eating a snack between lunch and the party meal. A few suggestions for snacks are half a lean-meat sandwich on whole wheat bread, string cheese and whole grain crackers, cottage cheese and fresh fruit or nonfat yogurt with fruit.
Make water your first beverage: Brown recommends starting off with a glass or bottle of water. Then limit your beverages with calories to one serving. You can switch back to water or drink no-calorie beverages.
Don't forget to exercise: All experts on nutrition and health recommend including exercise in your overall plan to maintain weight and health.
"A walk is always recommended whenever you can fit it in," Brown said.