Did you know that half of Americans' annual weight gain occurs during the holiday period? And despite our New Year's resolutions, studies show that some of that weight sticks around forever. I'd never tell you not to indulge on Thanksgiving and other special holidays, but don't throw out your healthy eating habits and let the next six weeks turn into a free-for-all. These tips on eating sensibly can help you savor holiday delicacies but still fit into your clothes come 2013.
- Prepare for the office onslaught. Most American offices will be filled with boxes of chocolates and gift basket goodies over the coming weeks, so if you work in one, arm yourself with alternative healthy food options. "Stash your own snacks in your desk or the office fridge so you won't be tempted to grab a handful of holiday candy when hunger strikes," says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet and founder of the F-Factor Diet. "Dried fruits and nuts, or a piece of string cheese or carrots are all healthy choices."
- Remember, "If it's Thick, it will Stick." Zuckerbrot suggests you keep this mantra in mind—it's those high calorie condiments like gravy, butter and heavy dressings that can really jack up the calorie counts of holiday meals.
- Load up on bod-friendly food first. When at a party or celebratory meal, fill up on healthy food options that are high in fiber before moving onto the more decadent eats. "For example, hover over the vegetable sticks, fruit, plain chicken pieces, and things like that. Then move on to some of the less healthy, but yummy, offerings," says Zuckerbrot. "You will be less likely to overindulge on these foods if you have already filled up on some of the healthier items." Same goes for Thanksgiving and other big holiday dinners: Make sure you've eaten plenty of salad and veggie sides before you go for a second helping of mashed potatoes.
- Make red wine your drink of choice. If you like to toast the holidays with something stronger than seltzer, do it with red wine. Not only do piles of studies show that red wine is good for cardiovascular health, one released earlier this year found that (very moderate) red wine consumption may even help prevent breast cancer (this is major good news for wine-lovers like me, since women are usually told that any alcohol consumption raises breast cancer risk). But whatever you drink, keep in mind that alcoholic beverages usually contain about 150 calories per glass, and "avoid drinks made from mixes and frozen cocktails, like margaritas and daiquiris, and definitely say no to the eggnog," says Zuckerbrot.
- Load up on spicy food. "Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic, hot peppers, mustards and chili sauce are known to spike thermogenesis, the heat-producing effect of calories that raises metabolism," says Zuckerbrot. "Ginger for example, can boost metabolism by up to 20%, making pumpkin bread and gingerbread cookies great holiday treats."
- Don't nibble while you cook. Too much "sampling" of food while you're preparing it can mean eating a whole meal's worth of calories before the big meal even starts! This "Thanksgiving Cook Calorie Guide" slideshow over at CookingLight.com vividly shows how it can happen.
- Favor low-carb apps: "Instead of pigs in a blanket, which are 460 calories per serving, look for appetizers like chicken or beef kabobs, chicken satay or lean turkey meatballs, which are all less than 200 calories per serving," says Zuckerbrot. Similarly, approach the cheese plate by trying thin slices of firm cheese on their own rather than smearing brie onto slices of baguette. Crudites are always a good option, as long as you go easy on the dip. Shrimp cocktail is a better choice than crab cakes, points out Zuckebrot, since crab cakes contain fattening fillers and are often fried.
- Stay trim with the right turkey. "White meat is lower in calories and saturated fat than dark meat, and provides a great source of lean protein," says Zuckerbrot.
- Have a filet mignon feast. Filet mignon is a leaner cut of beef than prime rib. "If prime rib is a holiday tradition in your home, it might just be time to start a new one. This cut of beef comes from the fattiest part of the cow, and one piece packs in a whopping 750 calories and 45 grams of fat," says Zuckerbrot. "Instead, try filet mignon—a 4 ounce steak is only 180 calories and 8 grams of fat."
- Pick pumpkin over pecan. I love me some pecan pie, but can't deny that pumpkin is a better choice for your bod. "At 500 calories and 37 grams of fat, pecan tops the list of worst pies out there," says Zuckerbrot. While the nuts do contain some heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, the filling is chock full of butter and corn syrup. "Pumpkin pie has 316 calories and 14 gram fat per slice, plus pumpkin is a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C," she says.
But perhaps the most important tip on eating healthy at the holidays is this: When you've overindulged at a celebration, do NOT make it an excuse to go into a downward spiral of gluttony that lasts for days or weeks. Resume your healthy eating habits starting at breakfast the next morning, and look forward to indulging a little at the next special occasion.
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