The holiday season may bring family, friends, food and presents, but it doesn’t have to pack on the pounds, says a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist Connie Crawley.
The key, she said, is to try to only indulge in meals on the actual holidays. “Just because there are several holidays, you don’t have to eat for two months straight,” she said.
She’s collected tips and tricks to make the holidays a little lighter – and a little less belt loosening.
To cut down on leftovers, make the amount of food appropriate for the number of people who will be eating it. If there is extra food, send the leftovers home with the guests so you don’t feast on them for the next week.
When hosting a dinner, leave the prepared dishes in the kitchen or in a different room rather than having them on the dinner table. “If the food is in another room, people are less likely to get up and go get seconds,” Crawley said.
If alcohol is served, watch your intake. Drinking more alcohol causes people to be less inhibited, and they are more likely to overeat.
Adapt your recipes to contain healthier ingredients, but don’t surprise your guest with a dish you have just tweaked. Test these dishes prior to the celebration day.
Crawley says one key to sneaking in healthier foods is not to tell people that you have adjusted the recipe. If they know the dish is lower in fat or sugar, they may not give the food a chance and will expect it to taste bad, even if it doesn’t.
After dinner, don’t serve dessert right away. Let the food settle so your stomach has a chance to feel full. While you’re waiting, play a game, talk to your guests or take a walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations.
When you have parties at your own home, make sure there are plenty of activities.
“Instead of watching football all day, limit yourself to watching the most important game,” said Crawley. “Have pool and ping-pong available, play a game of football outside, set up badminton or volleyball and have dancing and singing. Make sure it’s not all about food and sitting around.”
In between dinners and parties, make healthy eating choices, and make sure you don’t skip physical activity. Half an hour to an hour of physical activity daily will reduce stress, decrease risk for depression and keep you in shape.
“Exercise is an anti-depressant and will help you not to gain weight during the holidays,” Crawley said. “You will control your appetite better if you are physically active.”
Eat non-fat dairy foods and plenty of fruits, vegetables and salads. Don’t skip breakfast. By eating breakfast you will be less hungry later in the day and will be less likely to overeat.
“Weight gain for the average person is only a pound or two during the holidays,” Crawley said. “But people don’t get rid of that extra weight afterward, and that is what adds up over the years.”