Thanksgiving and the upcoming winter holidays include commemoration and indulgence, but hectic schedules and buffets of delicious treats easily derail diets and expand waistlines. To stay on track, arm yourself with advice from specialists.

Karen Massey, a dietitian and community nutrition coordinator with INTEGRIS, says the holidays aren’t the time to lose weight but to maintain it.

“Think moderation, not all-or-nothing,” she says. “Embracing moderation can be freeing. It’s extremely difficult to adhere to a strict pattern of eating during the holidays. Goals must be achievable. Eating a salad isn’t a reasonable goal on Thanksgiving, but limiting portions may be. If you can’t get in your 50-minute workout, settle for a 20-minute one.”

Jamie Harry, a dietitian and health educator at Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa, says the most important tip is to have a plan.

Homemade pumpkin pie on a rustic table with autumn decorations.

“Just like planning a budget so you don’t overspend, plan your diet and fitness routine so you don’t exceed your food budget or go bankrupt,” she says. “Don’t trade what you want most for what you want at the moment. On the day of the event, plan your strategy. Be proactive – this is your life and your health. Don’t fear changing the status quo. Be the one who brings a healthy fruit platter, a lower-fat and -calorie version of pumpkin pie, a nice healthy pumpkin or ginger bread.”

Massey says modifying holiday favorites is easy, although changing heirloom recipes can be touchy.

“Announcing you made ‘diet’ gravy is not likely to be well received,” she says. “However, if you quietly substitute de-fatted broth for a portion of the drippings, no one may be the wiser. You can often reduce fat or sugar by one-third. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, you can probably get away with two-thirds cup.”

While this one-third guideline won’t work for items like pastries, it can for casseroles, soups, stews, dips and spreads. Massey also says it’s generally a mistake to announce your health goals.

“Some of the most difficult obstacles involve the social setting more than the menu,” she says. “Never mention that you’re quietly striving to choose healthier foods. Doing so will only provoke party-goers who don’t share your health mission. If a pushy partier does start trailing you, just say, ‘No, thank you.’ Don’t try to explain. That’s not to say that eliciting help and encouragement from those with whom you have a close personal relationship isn’t helpful, but don’t expect a great deal of sympathy from the general crowd.”

Harry also recommends not falling into the guilt trap.

“Learn to say no when offered non-healthy food, even if it is a family tradition,” she says. “It is not your job to make everyone happy at your own health’s expense.”

Instead, she suggests setting a goal to enjoy the holidays by de-emphasizing food, alcohol (which packs extra calories) and materialism, and focusing on connecting with the important people in your life.

 

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