By Mia Syn, MS, RD
As a dietitian and food lover, I know that the holidays can be a challenging time for those trying to eat healthy – but can’t say no to pumpkin pie. Studies suggest that Americans can gain up to ten unwanted pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here are some tips on how to enjoy the foods you love, guilt-free, all season long:
1. Don’t arrive to the party on an empty stomach
It seems that skipping meals or fasting before a main event would be a smart way to compensate for feasting later. However, contrary to this popular belief, studies suggest that skipping meals will usually backfire and can lead to overeating later in the day. Before the holiday party, you want to eat something that won’t completely fill you up, but also won’t keep you starving. Fiber-rich foods are a great option because they are low in calories, high in nutrients and will promote a feeling of fullness. Think vegetable soups, salads or veggies dipped into hummus. These light snacks will satiate you enough so that you won’t dive headfirst into the chips and dip upon arriving and ruin your appetite before the good stuff.
2. Choose healthier versions of classic favorites so you don’t feel deprived
I am all about enjoying healthier versions of traditional holiday dishes. For Thanksgiving, try Costa Rica Clementine-sweetened cranberry sauce to cut the sugar or a cauliflower and potato mash flavored with vegetable broth instead of heavy cream. Be smart about the way you approach the Thanksgiving spread. Opt for lighter cuts of turkey over dark cuts to slash your saturated fat intake and pumpkin pie over pecan. There are so many healthy tweaks you can make that won’t compromise the traditional tastes and flavors that we love and associate with the season.
3. Don’t drink your calories, try lightened-up cocktails
Beverages can pack a lot of calories with little nutrition. Many of us may not realize how many calories are in a lot of our favorite holiday drinks. For instance, eggnog can pack between 250-350 calories a cup and a small peppermint mocha from Starbucks can be about 320 calories which is equivalent to a slice of pumpkin pie or even a small plate of turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. I love making my own festive cocktails for the holidays using low calorie sparkling beverages like Bai to flavor, instead of sugar or syrups. Alternate with water throughout the party to hydrate and help avoid the dreaded holiday hangover.
4. Eat what you love, leave what you like
Just because it is the holidays, doesn’t mean you need to drink eggnog or eat pecan pie – unless you love it, of course! Make room on your plate for things you love like your grandma’s homemade chocolate chip cookies or your dad’s famous Thanksgiving turkey and leave the things that don’t satisfy your soul. My rule of thumb is to gravitate towards the homemade items –the ones you know you can’t buy in the grocery store. They somehow taste better knowing friends and family made them, and they are typically healthier than store-bought dishes.
5. It’s not all about the food
Last but not least, remember to slow down and enjoy the company you are with. Take breaks between bites to converse with friends and family. Slowing down gives your body enough time to let your brain know that you are satisfied or still hungry. Enjoy the moment and forgive yourself if you have a second slice of pumpkin pie. The holidays come once a year and tomorrow is a new day to go back to healthier habits!