With the holiday season in full swing, temptation is everywhere — from office parties to family gatherings cookie walks and neighborhood potlucks. Often, we arrive at these events hungry and underprepared, overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices, juggling a drink in one hand, a plate in the other and multiple conversations. By the time the party’s over we’re left having consumed a day’s worth of calories and a lot of guilt.
To help avoid this from the get-go, we’ve developed a step-by-step guide to better manage holiday gatherings before they even start so you enjoy them to the fullest without sabotaging your weight-loss goals.
Many people skip meals to reserve calories for the main event. The problem with this tactic is it only leaves the body ravenous and potentially “hangry,” resulting in overeating. Instead, eat well-balanced meals leading up to the event, focusing on vegetable intake. Try one of these high-protein make-ahead breakfast options: Ham Spinach Egg Cups and Low-Carb Cauliflower Breakfast Skillet.
Physical activity, in any form, leaves us feeling energized, accomplished and motivated. Studies also show exercise results in increased motivation linked to making smarter food choices throughout the day. So by making a point to exercise before your next holiday party, you’re less likely to overdo it at the appetizer table.
Eat 1–2 servings of high-fiber, nutrient-dense vegetables to fill your stomach before the party. This will do two things. First, you’ll be less inclined to gorge on high-calorie appetizers because you will have already filled up and second, because you may not know what the hosts are serving, you’ve already consumed your vegetables for the day. Opt for vegetables high in fiber and water content while low in calories. Think: cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower and squash.
Choose an option where vegetables are the star. Serve some to yourself before adding other tempting foods to your plate so you’ve committed to eating a healthy, hearty option while still including your holiday favorites. Here are a couple good ones to try: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans or this Harvest Vegetable Medley recipe for a festive, yet healthy, side.
When you arrive, check out the full food line-up before digging in. You don’t want to fill your plate, eat it and then realize you missed the two choices you really wanted.
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Water should always be your go-to drink during social events since it’s very easy to mistake thirst for hunger. Drinking water provides a more full feeling when eating your meal and also keeps you hydrated. Many other drinks, such as sodas, eggnog or some teas and coffees, contain empty calories. Although these are acceptable in moderation, the additional calories may be equal to that of dessert.
Alcohol is often free-flowing at holiday events. And it’s OK to have some, just keep in mind alcohol has 7 calories per gram — almost double the calories of protein and carbohydrates. Tame your intake, and drink a glass of water between cocktails to ensure you stay hydrated. Keep in mind: The dietary guideline for alcohol is no more than two standard drinks per day for men and one for women.
There are typically rolls, specialty bread or crackers served at holiday parties. Unless they’re extraordinarily special, bypass the bread and save yourself the extra calories.
As you’re circulating the party, you likely already have a drink in your hand and a few hors d’oeuvres in your stomach. While this is A-OK for the party, it’s likely you’re close to reaching your calorie limit for dinner. Don’t fret, though: Just use a smaller plate at dinner.
Before you fill your dinner plate, pay attention to your level of hunger and fullness. How much food do you really need on your plate to feel satisfied? Opt for an abundance of non-starchy vegetables first (Think: salad or greens), followed by protein and then starch. By this time you probably have consumed a fair amount of calories, so try to balance the equation with lots of vegetables and your protein first.
For many of us dessert is when all hell breaks loose. That darn sweet tooth makes the stomach feel magically empty after a marathon eating session. Only take what you really, really want and if the dessert option is just meh, pass on it. If you decide to go for dessert, use a small plate to guide your portion and savor it. Take a bite, put the fork down, chat with the people sitting around you. Ask yourself, do I really love this dessert? If not, it’s fine to stop. In fact, sometimes it only takes a few bites to cure your sweet tooth and leave it feeling satisfied and not overstuffed.
One of the mistakes most commonly made throughout the holidays is either having a large amount of leftovers at home — or going home with them. Typical holiday foods are high-calorie, which is why we love them so much. Extending the holiday for two or three more days, makes it harder to get back on track.
With all of the temptations during the holidays, it’s easy to overindulge, but as you practice these tactics more and more, these decisions become your new way of life. After the holidays end, you’ll be ready to keep up the momentum and move into the New Year having enjoyed your favorite foods while also maintaining healthy-eating habits. A win-win all around!