I love the holidays.
The songs, the decorations, the parties, and especially the food. Yet as a registered dietitian, I'm all too aware that the standard holiday fare can play havoc with good intentions, especially if you're trying to watch your weight.
But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it's perfectly possible to enjoy yourself over the holidays, enjoy the occasional treat, and still keep the weight down. Here are some strategies to help you do it.
Practice mindful eating
It's easy to fixate on what you should or shouldn't eat, but just as important is how you eat. Mindful eating, or the art of knowing and honoring your food, is important at any time. But during the holidays, when we are confronted by snacks, buffets and temptations at every turn, it becomes a particularly useful strategy. So pay attention to what you are eating and when. Ask yourself whether you are really hungry or just indulging because it is there. And consider keeping a food journal to help you keep track. You can also try setting a timer for 20 minutes, and then making sure your meal lasts that length of time. (That's probably easier done at home than out in public, but you could still make a mental note of when you start and stop eating.) Another method that many people find useful is to put your utensil down after every bite — making sure you chew your food properly before shoveling more in.
I never recommend that someone go on a diet during the holidays; it's better to simply aim to maintain your weight. There's just too much temptation, and a failed diet can lead to lack of motivation in the new year. (Ongoing healthy eating habits are more important than dieting anyway.) But as Morieka Johnson's fitness guru noted, starting or maintaining an exercise routine can be a great way to both burn off excess holiday calories and set you up for more vigorous efforts when January rolls around.
Go for the greens
When you are staring at a seemingly endless spread of delicious holiday treats, try this simple trick to help moderate your intake: Go for the fruits and veggies first. Because fruits and vegetables are packed with healthy dietary fiber, they create that "full" feeling, reducing your appetite for whatever else is on offer.
That doesn't mean you can't have a brownie too, but fill up on salads and veggie sticks first and you'll find yourself much less tempted to overindulge.
Trick your mind, use a smaller plate
We already know that using smaller plates at home can be a great way to limit portion sizes. But how many of us think to use this trick when we are out? If you are at a party, look to see if there are smaller plates available — perhaps by the desserts — and use that for your entire meal. It will visually trick your mind into thinking you're eating bigger portions, and it also means you have to make a special effort to get up and refill if you want seconds.
Watch the alcohol
I know, I know, this is easier said than done. But alcoholic drinks can be extremely calorific. For example, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1 1/2 ounces of liquor are all about 100 calories. A margarita is 200 calories and a spiked eggnog is a whopping 400 calories!
Try limiting yourself to one or two glasses at a party, and if you know you're not good at resisting temptation, consider offering yourself up as the designated driver so the choice is out of your hands. You can also try cutting back on your drink of choice at home, if you know you've got a busy season of parties ahead.
Go easy on yourself
The holidays are about being together, and enjoying the good things in life. For many of us, that includes some holiday favorites that aren't exactly Weight Watchers-approved. That's OK as far as I am concerned. Moderation, not self sacrifice, tends to be the best method for long-term, sustainable weight management — so allow yourself to enjoy the occasional treat without too much guilt.
And think about going for a walk when you're done.
Jenni Grover, MS RD LDN, is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners in Durham, N.C. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.