Saturday, December 9, 2023

Healthy Holiday Party Tips

It is that time of year again for the holiday party season leading up to a food-centered Christmas when many Americans tend to overindulge.  Below are some ways to prevent the holiday weight gain, while still enjoying time with friends and family.

ornamentBYOD (Bring Your Own Dish). Ask the host/hostess if you can bring a dish to the gathering.  This way you can control at least one of the dishes being offered and you can make or get something that fits into your healthy eating plan that you enjoy as well.

Eat Before You Go. If you are going to a party where you know there will not be any healthy food choices and you cannot bring something, then consider eating before you go. This way you will be full and less likely to munch on foods that are not on your healthy eating plan.

Survey the Situation. Before making your plate (whether sit-down dinner or hors d’oeuvres), see what all of your options are before making your choice(s) to ensure you fill your plate with healthy food choices and a couple items (in small portion sizes) that are not quite as healthy, but possibly your holiday favorite(s).

Healthy First. Eat the healthy food offerings first at holiday gatherings.  Enjoy the fruit and veggie tray or maybe they have some sort of chicken satay or shrimp cocktail (just be light on the cocktail sauce).  Research has shown that when we are faced with a variety of foods with different tastes, textures, smells, shapes, and colors, we eat more, regardless of our original hunger level.  Choose food choices wisely and work to fill your plate with lower-calorie items first.  Choose leafy green salads, vegetable dishes, and lean proteins.  Take smaller portions of the food items that are richer in calories.  Once you are done eating, considering popping a sugar-free mint in your mouth.  Having fresh breath is always a bonus, but having a fresh palate can also curb additional munching.

Position Yourself for Success. Move your socializing away from the buffet or appetizer trays.  Putting yourself more than an arm’s length away from the less healthy munchies, such as the chips or rich desserts will reduce your overall calorie intake.  This may help to still chat with your friends and family while not being tempted to raise your hand to your mouth every few seconds out of habit.

Also, consider eating with smaller groups versus larger groups, if possible.  One study found that dining with six or more people could cause you to eat up to 76 percent more, most likely due to the length of mealtime.  You can only stare at the food on the table so long before you take more.  Try sitting next to a fellow healthy eater; there is strength in numbers and this will help you to make better food choices as well.  You can also try to be the slowest eater to help you realize how full you are getting.

veggietrayMindfulness. Concentrate on your meal while you are eating.  While it is easy to get lost in conversation and not notice what you are eating, this can also be dangerous.  Not only could you not chew your food well enough and get something stuck, but you may also not realize how full you are and eat too much leaving you uncomfortably full or even worse, you get sick.  Research has shown that multitasking at meal time can make you eat more calories than if you focus on enjoying the smell, taste, and texture of each food, as well as how full you are getting from the meal.  While dinner party conversation is crucial and natural, try to be aware of what you are eating and how quickly.

Hosting the Party. If you are hosting a holiday gathering, you have much more control over the food choices.  Consider modifying recipes to reduce fat, sugar, and calories without skimping on taste.  Try some of these swaps to make family favorites more bariatric-friendly:

  • Use two egg whites in place of one egg to reduce the cholesterol.  You can also try using applesauce or flax meal in place of eggs completely in some recipes.
  • Use low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth in the mashed potatoes to add flavor and cut back on added butter or margarine.
  • Instead of white flour, consider using whole-wheat flour, ground oats, or almond meal.
  • Instead of sugar, consider stevia (Pure Via, Truvia, etc.), sucralose (Splenda) or other non-nutritive sweeteners.
  • Try substituting applesauce for oil, margarine, or butter in muffins and quick breads, such as banana bread.  Start with substituting a small amount first and then adjust.  The more you substitute, the more the texture of the finished product will change.  You can also use non-fat yogurt for oil in baked goods.  Another option includes mashed bananas.
  • Make dips, sauces, and pie toppings healthier by using fat-free yogurt (Greek in some cases), fat-free sour cream, light or fat-free cream cheese, and fat-free whipped topping.
  • Sliced almonds make a delicious, crunchy topping instead of fried onion rings.
  • Choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses for salads and casseroles.
  • Instead of chocolate chips, use carob chips or dark chocolate chunks.
  • To shave more calories, go easy when adding nuts, cheese, cream sauces, gravies, butter, and whipped cream to all recipes.
  • Choose simple vegetable and fruit dishes instead of heavy dishes with sauces.  For example, consider green bean almandine with a squeeze of lemon rather than traditional green bean casserole.  Simple peas or corn are healthier than creamed peas or corn.  If you must have a casserole, use low-fat soup, increase the veggies and top with nuts or whole-grain cereal instead of fried onions.
  • Roast or grill for great flavor with less calories.  Consider roasting or grilling meat, seafood, vegetables, and potatoes as a simple, low-calorie cooking style that brings out the natural sweetness and flavor in foods.  Roasting sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and a spray of canola oil are delicious substitutes for the traditional high-calorie casserole.  Grilled pork chops with mango salsa are a great replacement for pork chops smothered in a mushroom cream sauce.
  • Want to serve a healthier dessert?  Consider chocolate-dipped strawberries or a healthy pumpkin pie made with non-fat evaporated milk and topped with fat-free whipped topping.Holiday-Shopping

Healthy Shopping Cart. Keep items at home for healthy hosting with sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, carrots and green beans.  Apples, cranberries, and pears combine easily for a tasty salad, fruit crisp, or topping for turkey.  Your menu should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy.  Use this as a time to check the food labels, as these may not be foods you buy year round.

Eat Breakfast. If you know there is going to be a big family meal, then do not skip breakfast to save room for this meal.  Research shows us that those who start their day with a healthy breakfast tend to eat less throughout the day and will help you to make healthier choices as well since you will not be ravenous come family mealtime.  Start your day with a small meal that includes whole grains, fruit, low-fat or fat-free dairy and protein, such as eggs or ham.   Fat-free Greek yogurt with granola and fresh peach slices is a great start to any day.

Have a Healthy Office. Stashing healthy snacks at your office will help you to be less tempted by all the holiday goodies that may be dropped off and piling up at the office.  Do your best to keep community office goodies out of view.  Try to keep them somewhere other than high-traffic areas, such as the kitchen or break room.  Also, consider storing them in dark containers or covered dishes.  One study reported that individuals ate 26% more Hershey’s kisses when they were in clear dishes versus white ones.  When the candies were placed six feet away, the average person ate only four per day opposed to nine a day when they were within an arm’s reach.  If you are going to splurge on some office goodies, then consider being more active prior to the splurge.  Go up and down a few flights of stairs or walk a couple times around the office parking lot.  Worst-case scenario, do some marching in place or chair dancing at your desk.  While you may look silly, you will feel better!

Portion Control. Consider using the salad or dessert plate for your entrée food choices.  This will help you to eat less and keep your portion sizes in check.  The size of the serving utensil matters as well.  When serving utensils are larger, people tend to serve themselves more.

Intentional Indulgence. Many people know they are going to indulge over the holiday season, but there are ways to keep this in check and not feel guilty.  Plan in advance to eat a little more at certain occasions and try to be more active on those days or ensure the other meals are extremely healthy in the surrounding days.  Savor the culinary joys of the holiday season with smaller portions to reduce the chance of a binge.  Choose wisely.  Instead of wasting calories on foods that are available year round, choose the ones that are truly family favorites and traditions.

worst-holiday-food-1Alcoholic Beverages. When it comes to the cocktail hour, consider starting with a calorie-free, nonalcoholic beverage.  Satisfy your thirst before having an alcoholic drink.  Moderate consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Keep in mind, just one drink will alter your reflexes for several hours. Alcohol consumption also alters your ability to make healthy food choices.  Instead of alcoholic beverages, consider these options:

  • Apple Tea: Brewed tea sweetened with a splash of apple cider (can use sugar-free apple cider) and a cinnamon stick.
  • Guiltless Hot Chocolate:  1 Tbsp. of cocoa powder, skim milk, and low-calorie or non-nutritive sweetener and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract.
  • Frou-Frou Cocktail: Instead of alcohol, look for a fun flavor of crystal light, Dasani mixers, or MIO type beverages.  Add to water to taste and then garnish with frozen grapes.

Track as Necessary. While most individuals do not enjoy tracking their food at all times, this may be one of the times that it is helpful to keep you on track with your healthy eating plan.  Consider tracking your food intake three to four days a week if you cannot seem to do all seven days.  Consider using an app on your phone to make it faster and easier.  This is also a good time to start wearing your pedometer again to track your daily steps.  Even if you miss a workout, maybe you can get in some extra steps while holiday shopping.

Keep up the Activity. Try to squeeze in at least three workouts a week, no matter how busy you get.  If you do not have time for three structured exercise sessions, then consider breaking it up.  If you normally walk for a 45-minutes a day, then consider breaking up that session into three 15-minute sessions.  It is a lot easier to get in 15-minute intervals throughout the day during the busy holiday season.  This is just as effective at maintaining overall fitness as one continuous workout session.

Weigh Weekly. While some patients weigh daily and that works for them, some do not weigh themselves at all.  If you holiday-healthy-diet-350x263are in the weight loss phase still, then weigh weekly and consider graphing it to ensure you are still continuing to trend down on your weight.  If you are in the weight maintenance phase, then set an upper limit and do not let yourself get above that number as you weigh weekly.  Keep in mind it is normal to have some ups and downs (especially if you weigh more frequently than weekly) with your weight, but try to set an upper limit (maybe five pounds above your normal weight (if in maintenance) or your recent weight (if in the weight loss phase) and if you go above that number on the scale then it means you need to go back to the basics and considering keeping a record of your food intake and activity.  The best time of day to weigh yourself is first thing in the morning after using the restroom.  Also, consider that the holiday season may be a time of weight maintenance rather than weight loss.  Even just avoiding weight gain this time of year is a huge success!

Remember, the holidays do not have to be about food, even though most Americans make them that way.  The holidays are a time to enjoy family and friends.  Consider starting some new traditions of taking a walk before a big family meal or having a dance-off competition after mealtime.  By following the above tips, you will be well on your way to having a healthy, happy holiday season and CELEBRATING with your family and friends.  However, if you do splurge, do not beat yourself up.  Get right back to healthy eating and activity with the next meal.  Do not wait until tomorrow or Monday, or even worse January 1st.

– Heather K. Mackie, M.S., R.D., L.D., Celebrate Vitamins,