Given how notoriously food-centric American holidays are, it’s easy to see how many of us gain anywhere from one to five pounds during the holiday season. That's because the average American consumes more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat at each holiday feast. For comparison, the recommended daily fat intake for those on a regular 2,000-calorie diet is 44 to 78 grams.
But just because that’s what statistics show doesn’t have to make it true for you. With a little knowledge, preparation and discipline, you can enjoy the holidays with no regrets.
Here are nine tips to help you stay on track this holiday season.
Make a plan. Before heading out to your next celebration, make a plan and know what you will and won’t eat. If possible, don’t attend a holiday party alone. Instead, take your significant other, a friend or a family member and ask them to hold you accountable for making healthy choices.
Take a healthy dish. Whether it’s a holiday potluck at the office or an evening celebration with friends, make sure your contribution is a healthy dish. That way, you’ll have at least one food you can enjoy without wrecking your diet.
Never go hungry. If you skip meals to “make room” for a big holiday dinner, you’re not doing yourself any favors. In fact, if you're already hungry by the time you arrive at the gathering, you’re more likely to overeat by grazing and filling your plate with oversized portions. Start the day with a high-protein breakfast and eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies during the day so you won’t be tempted to overdo it at the party.
Eat what you love. Despite what you may think, there’s no unwritten rule saying you have to sample a little of everything on the holiday buffet. Pick and choose only the foods you love and don’t feel guilty if you don’t try to taste everything.
Avoid grazing. Holiday parties are known for their endless array of appetizers and finger foods. While these snacks may be delicious, their presence makes it easier for you to graze for hours. All those little bites of food add up quickly. Rather than munching a little bit here and there for hours on end, plan on enjoying a meal.
Control portions with a small plate. The key to avoiding overeating is controlling portion size. The easiest way to do so is to use a small plate. Fill it up with healthy foods so you’ll have little room left for the less healthy options.
Stay hydrated with water. Eggnog, holiday cocktails and cider are tasty treats, but they're also loaded with empty calories that won’t keep you full. Enjoy a glass of wine or one cocktail, but treat those beverages as you would any other treat. For the most part, stick to water and other calorie-free drinks. Drinking plenty of water can also help reduce your cravings for sweet, fatty, calorie-packed foods.
Pay attention to quantities. Fill only one-quarter of your plate with protein and make it lean — think chicken, turkey or pork. One serving of meat is three ounces so keep your share to about the size of a deck of cards. Go for lighter-colored meat (white instead of dark) and avoid eating the skin. Mashed potatoes, breads, stuffing and other starchy foods should also make up no more than one-quarter of your plate. Fill the other half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Limit yourself to a bite. When it comes to desserts, taste, don’t devour. Choose one treat from the spread of sweets and try to pick the healthiest option (like pumpkin pie rather than apple pie) to keep your calorie count down.
Remember, the holiday season is about more than just food. Focus on time spent with family and friends and take the spotlight off the food by playing games, exchanging gifts and enjoying good conversation with those you love.