The holidays are rapidly approaching and with that comes rich holiday meals and parties galore. It is also the time to celebrate the autumn harvest of some of our favorite foods such as autumn squashes, apples, pears and some of our favorite root vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes. Many green vegetables enjoy the colder weather bringing them back into season like kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Along with these seasonal vegetables, it is also the time that we indulge with comfort foods like mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, cookies and other holiday/party fare. And, for most of us, this means weight gain. The average person will gain one pound during the holidays. One pound may not sound like much but it is the weight that we gain over the holidays that is the hardest to lose. According to the New England Journal of Medicine most people do not lose that weight and it becomes part of the 1-2 pounds gained annually leading to those extra 20 pounds by middle age. It has also been shown that if you are already overweight, you will gain even more over the holidays; overweight people will gain on 5 pounds on average. So why do we gain weight over the holidays? We consume larger meals, more snack foods, alcohol as well as desserts that we normally deny ourselves during the year. Even though holidays are just a few days over 6 weeks, it is the endless parties throughout those 6 weeks that really put on the pounds.
What can you do to avoid those extra pounds? First realize most weight gain is not due to eating too many calories but it is a result of what we eat, environmental influences and in some cases stress. Some of the foods that most contributes to weight gain are snack foods, processed foods and desserts that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. It is those “empty” carbohydrates that research now shows is one of the main causes of weight gain. Reach for the more nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, fruit, nuts and legumes. Try to avoid the complicated dishes like the infamous green bean casserole made with canned cream soups and sweet potato casserole made with marshmallow topping. Stick with simpler preparation with these vegetables; green beans prepared with sauteed mushrooms and tossed in extra virgin oil. Instead of topping the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, top with pecans or other healthy nuts.
Some tips to avoid those stubborn pounds during the holidays:
Party Snacks – avoid crackers, cookies, candy and keep to the nibble food like olives, nuts, fresh vegetables.
Buffets – Survey the buffet table before you start to fill you plate. Determine what you will “indulge” in and look for healthier choices – lean protein choices, vegetables, whole grain options such as quinoa salad.
Decorate Your Plate – fill up your plate with healthy vegetables and leave just enough room for lean protein choices. Fill up on the vegetables and keep turkey dressing and casseroles to just a few bites.
Indulge Selectively – Try to keep those indulgences to just the special days i.e. Thanksgiving or New Year’s day. It is those cookies, party food and other indulgences that we do every day throughout the holidays that lead to the weight gain.
Bring a Healthy Option to the Party – Volunteer to bring a healthy option to the party when ask to bring a dish. Try bringing nuts, olives or healthy vegetables. Bring a healthier option for a casserole or vegetable dish such as a lentil salad.
Choose the Lower Calorie Option for Some Dishes – An excellent example is choose pumpkin pie over pecan pie or mashed cauliflower over mashed potatoes. And, if you are going to indulge with alcohol, keep to the lower calorie option of dry white or red wine over a sugary mixed drink. A glass of white wine contains about 150 calories versus a margarita that can contain over 300 calories.
But most importantly enjoy the best part of the holidays; a time to celebrate and gather with family and friends. Let the focus of your holiday be about friendship, love and the enjoyment of the winter season and less about food. You will be pleasantly surprised come January and you won’t be promising yourself the same old new years’ resolution to lose those pesky holiday pounds.