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How to avoid holiday weight gain

November 22, 2016 | Katie Rankell, RD, CDE

Most of us look forward to holiday meals with all the trimmings. But boom! They usually are full of calorie bombs.

In fact, a traditional spread of appetizers, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, rolls and dessert can easily top a whopping 4,000 or even 5,000 calories per person, not including drinks.

You can, however, defuse this bomb while still enjoying a satisfying meal.

Here are some tips and recipes from the UCI Health Weight Management Program for healthy, delicious holiday eating.

Don’t skip meals before the big feast

  • Starving yourself on holidays by skipping breakfast and lunch, only to gorge at dinnertime, is not a wise strategy. Instead, eat a light breakfast and have a healthy midday snack. If you arrive hungry, you increase the odds that you’ll overeat the rest of the day. Try our healthy homemade hummus as a snack ›

Think before you drink

  • Drinks, especially sodas and flavored coffees, add under-the-radar calories because they don’t fill you up like food does. So, you are likely to consume lots of calories without diminishing your hunger pangs.
  • Choose water, unsweetened drinks or even indulge with a bit of wine instead. Save your calorie expenditure for food. Plus, wine is good for your heart ›

Watch where you stand

  • At holiday gatherings, try not to sit or stand too close to the snack table, the buffet or the bar. It’s easier to avoid temptations when they are out of your line of sight. Focus on the people, not the food.

Make smart substitutions

  • Each menu item offers opportunities to reduce calories. Take, for example, the traditional green bean casserole. If it is a must-have at your holiday meals, make it lighter by using reduced-fat cream of mushroom soup and toasted fresh onions instead of the canned, fried ones.
  • Or skip the casserole part completely by using this tasty recipe for roasted green beans with almond slivers ›

Limit portion sizes

  • It’s so easy to overload your plate. Instead, keep the visual image of Choose My Plate in mind. This guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help you select the right amounts of the right foods.
  • At the main meal, fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Add lean protein (for example, turkey) roughly the size of the palm of your hand, and add starches about the size of your fist.
  • For appetizers, always use a plate instead of continually grabbing snacks here and there.  
  • Avoid overstuffing yourself. Overeating can lead to a heart attack ›

Always pass on these foods

  • Turkey skin is much fattier than turkey meat, so be sure to pull it off and eat only the meat.
  • Gravy made from turkey drippings is shockingly high in fat and calories. Skip it or make reduced-fat gravy out of chicken broth or white wine instead.
  • Real whipped cream is another calorie bomb. Stick with the imitation whipped toppings instead.

Dessert is still doable

Give up dessert? No, but you should be smart about it.

  • While there are countless recipes out there, pumpkin pie is typically a much better option calorie-wise than an apple pie or, especially, a pecan pie for a traditional holiday sweet treat.
  • Try our healthy and tasty pumpkin pie recipe for an even lighter take on this classic. Light, healthy pumpkin pie ›

Add an activity to your day

  • Physical activity should be part of any day, but especially so on the holidays.
  • Incorporate a vigorous pre- or post-meal family walk or, for New Year’s Eve, dance the night away. The exertion will make you feel better, burn a few calories and reduce your appetite.

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