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Health Information Holiday Eating Strategies

The holidays offer many opportunities to share and socialize with family and friends. Food and drink is usually an important part of holiday gatherings, so remember to take good care of yourself and your body by practicing moderation. Though at times it may seem difficult, staying healthy over the holidays has many rewards. Maintaining a healthful lifestyle may also help you avoid the weight gain that many experience during the season.

One way to maintain your weight during the holiday is to make good choices when faced with a selection of holiday treats. Another is to remember the importance of portion control and to be aware when you’ve reached your serving limits. For example, a serving of cheese is about the size of four dice. You can get the recommended serving of dairy (two to three servings per day) just by standing next to a cheese tray and absentmindedly eating while chatting with a friend!

Kristin Gustashaw, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at Rush University Medical Center, notes that people prepare for company when they’re about to have a party — cleaning the house, setting a nice table, preparing a meal and so forth. She advises taking the same approach with your body: “Eat more sparingly the few days before a party by eating light but balanced meals and by saying ‘no’ to sweets, late-night visits to the kitchen and extra treats. You should also increase your activity level before and after a party. You need to gear up and then clean up afterward, just like when you’re hosting a party.”

She recommends that you get a balanced diet at all times, but especially during the holiday season. “You should have some protein, some carbohydrates and some fat at every meal,” Gustashaw advises. “Fiber is very important, too, because it fills you up and makes you feel satisfied.” She also recommends drinking plenty of water, because people often confuse the feeling of dehydration with hunger.

But don’t get discouraged if you overindulge. Just return as soon as possible to your program of healthful and moderate eating. “If you mess up on a meal make the next thing you put in your mouth that much more healthy and jump back on track,” says Gustashaw.

At home:

  • Offer your guests healthy choices like fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t focus on desserts and sugary treats.
  • When preparing dishes, use fat-free alternatives whenever possible. For help, see our list of food substitutions.
  • Eat and serve smaller portions (your family and guests know they are always welcome to seconds).
  • Take your time at meals — eat slowly and enjoy your family and company.

At parties:

  • Have a light meal or healthy snack before you arrive. Don’t plan to make a meal out of party treats.
  • Drink plenty of water before you leave home or on your way to the party
  • Eat and drink in moderation.
  • Look for foods that are low in fat and sugar.
  • Bring a healthy dish to share (like vegetables with a salsa or an oil-free dip, or a fruit salad). Check out our Quick and Easy Hummus recipe for a crowd-pleasing dip that’s high in fiber and protein, low in fat and delicious.
  • Don’t spend too much time near the food; you’re more likely to eat more if you do.
  • If you do have more than your share at a party, remember to eat light the next day or add some time to your workout.

At work:

  • Avoid the areas where treats are kept. Take low-fat snacks to eat instead.
  • Limit yourself to one treat per day.
  • Bring healthy dishes to office parties.
  • Don''t feel obligated to eat food your co-workers bring.

At restaurants:

  • Have a light healthy snack (a piece of fruit, etc.) before you go out.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Look for “heart-healthy” or “lite” alternatives on the menu. Ask your server for salad dressing and sauces “on the side.”
  • Ask for a half portion. Or take half of your entrée home to eat at another meal.
  • Make a meal of an appetizer and a salad.
  • Share an entrée and a salad.
  • Forego the second cocktail or go completely alcohol free (alcohol has lots of calories and little nutritional value).
  • Avoid other “empty” calories like white bread, white rice and refined pasta.


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Holiday Eating Strategies

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