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Wishing You a Healthy Holiday

Emily Schmelzer, MS, RD, LD
Nutrition Therapy Supervisor

November and December are often referred to as the “most wonderful time of the year”, but these months can also be the most challenging when it comes to maintaining a healthy routine. Did you know the average American will experience a half- to two-pound weight gain each holiday season? This additional weight tends to accumulate over several years, which can have a gradual – yet noticeable – impact on health. So how can we overcome the obstacles of the season?

According to Fairfield Medical Center’s registered dietitian Emily Schmelzer, success starts with getting rid of unhealthy mindsets. “When we enter this time of celebration with a diet mentality, we really set ourselves up for failure,” Emily said. “Losing weight during the holiday season is extremely challenging, but that doesn’t mean we should swing to the other side of the spectrum and eat whatever we want. The goal should be to maintain through moderation while enjoying your favorite time of the year.”

Emily’s Tips for Staying Balanced:

Give Your Mentality a Makeover

Get rid of phrases like:

    • “I’m saving my calories for the party tonight.”
    • “My diet will start after the holidays.”
    • “Holidays are all about the food.”

Instead, you should continue to eat balanced meals throughout the day to avoid overindulging at celebrations and make mindful choices when it comes to portion control and food selection. Finally, focus on the company, laughter and tradition instead of letting mealtime take center-stage.

Make Simple Substitutions

    • Refrigerate gravy to harden fat, then skim it from the top and discard.
    • When making stuffing, use a little less bread and add more vegetables.
    • Enjoy your turkey roasted and without skin. Light meat is typically healthier than dark meat.
    • Instead of putting fried onions on top of your green bean casserole, try diced onions or slivered almonds. You can also skip the casserole and serve fresh green beans as a healthy alternative.
    • Replace the heavy cream and butter in mashed potatoes and other side dishes with skim milk or low sodium broth.
    • Opt for a crustless pumpkin pie to satisfy your sweet tooth.

These changes may seem small, but when used in combination throughout the holiday season, substitutions can make a big difference.

Be Picky and Intentional

    • First and foremost, fit in your favorites! Allow yourself to enjoy a reasonable helping of your go-to holiday dish without guilt or remorse. Eat it slowly and savor the moment.
    • Survey the food choices before making your plate. Only choose what is most appealing to you rather than getting a little bit of everything. When possible, aim to build a balanced meal. If you know there are rarely healthy options, offer to bring a nutritious side dish to the gathering.
    • If something doesn’t taste as good as it looks, don’t feel obligated to finish it.
    • Take a 10-minute break before going back for seconds, especially if you showed up to the event hungry. This extra time gives the brain a chance to tell your body that it’s full.

Don’t Discount Liquid Calories

    • Festive holiday drinks can have 150-500 calories per glass, but these empty calories don’t make us feel full the same way a 500-calorie meal would. This makes it much easier to overindulge.
    • Enjoy your favorite seasonal drink in moderation. For example, if a peppermint mocha with whipped topping is your go-to December drink, get one to kick off the season, but don’t fall into the trap of ordering it every day.
    • If you choose to drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Limit intake, drink plenty of water and do not consume alcohol on an empty stomach.

Awareness of potential holiday weight gain is often enough to help us avoid unintended consequences. Being mindful of how and what we eat also gives us an opportunity to truly enjoy the season by bringing appreciation to the forefront of our holiday celebrations. How are you going to be more balanced in the final months of 2023?