Ten tips for healthy holiday eating

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Food is an important part of the holidays. In fact, special occasions often center around food. As a result, many people gain weight between Thanksgiving and the New Year. What's to blame? Perhaps it's all the tempting treats available during the holiday season or the pressure from family, friends, and co-workers to overeat. No matter the reason, the holidays don't have to mean weight gain. Focus on a healthy balance of food, activity, and fun. By implementing a few simple tips you can stay healthy through the holiday season.

1. Be realistic - Don't try to lose pounds during the holidays, instead try to maintain your current weight.

2. Do not base your holiday eating habits on a "plan" to diet after the New Year - Sometimes binge-type eating happens over the holidays because people think it's ok to eat whatever they want since they plan to restrict their diet in the New Year ("After all, if I'm never going let myself eat like this again after January 1st, I might as well eat as much as possible now!") Remember, restrictive diets don't work in the long run. They increase your loss of muscle, slow down your metabolism, increase anxiety, depression, food preoccupation, and binge eating, and make weight re-gain more likely.

3. Be physically active every day - Physical activity, especially aerobic activities (like brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming) can help relieve stress, regulate appetite, and burn up extra calories from holiday eating.

4. Eat a light healthy snack before going to holiday parties - It is not a good idea to arrive at a party hungry. Not only are you more likely to overeat, but you are also less likely to resist the temptation of eating the higher fat and higher calorie foods. Try eating a high-protein snack such as a small carton of low-fat yogurt or a low-fat string cheese before you go.

5. Make a plan - Think about where you will be, what foods will be available, what foods are really special to you (that you really want to eat), what foods you could probably do without, what your personal triggers are to overeat and how can you deal with them. Once you've thought about all of these things, make a plan of action. It's much easier to handle a difficult social eating situation if you've already planned for it. Survey party buffets before filling your plate. Choose your favorite foods and skip your least favorite. Include vegetables and fruits to keep your plate balanced.

6. Eat smaller portions of food - Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed. At parties and holiday dinners, we tend to eat (or keep eating) beyond our body's physical hunger simply because food is there and eating is a "social thing." To avoid this "recreational eating," make one plate of the foods you really want - choosing carefully- making sure to include some fruits and vegetables. Eat the food on your plate slowly, enjoying and savoring every tasty bite. Then, when you're done, pop a mint or stick of gum in your mouth, get a tall glass of water and sip on it throughout the night. Try to keep yourself away from the buffet table or food trays to prevent yourself from overeating.

7. Take the focus off food - Instead of candy and cookie making, make non-edible holiday projects like wreaths, dough art decorations or a gingerbread house. Plan group activities with family and friends that aren't all about food. Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn't have to be the focus. Holidays are a time to reunite with good friends and family, to share laughter and cheer, to celebrate and to give thanks. Focus more on these other holiday pleasures, in addition to the tastes of holiday foods.

8. Choose what you drink wisely -Drinks can quickly give you lots of calories without making you feel full. Remember to try and stay away from drinks that are high in calories like soda, fruit punch, and eggnog. Instead, fill up on water and diet sodas - which are calorie-free!

9. Maintain perspective - If you over-indulge at a holiday meal, put it behind you. Return to a healthy eating plan as soon as you can. If you overeat at one meal go light on the next.

10. Practice healthy holiday cooking - Preparing favorite dishes lower in fat and calories will help promote healthy holiday eating. There are plenty of low fat and low calorie substitutes that are amazingly tasty. Following all or some of the cooking tips below should help you and your family as you prepare for a healthier happier holiday season this year.

• Gravy - Refrigerate the gravy to harden fat. Skim the fat off.

• Dressing - Use a little less bread and add more onions, garlic, celery, and vegetables. Add fruits such as cranberries or apples. Moisten or flavor with low fat low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and applesauce instead of butter.

• Turkey - Enjoy delicious, roasted turkey breast without the skin which is a low-fat, high protein part of your holiday meal.

• Mashed potatoes - Use skim milk, chicken broth, garlic or garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter.

• Desserts - Substitute two egg whites for each whole egg in baked recipes. Replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies. Top cakes with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of fattening frosting.

Enjoy the holidays, plan time for physical activity, include healthy recipes in your holiday meals, and don't forbid yourself from enjoying your favorite holiday foods. Remember, moderation and balance are key.

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