Published on December 16, 2019

Eating Healthier During the Holidays

PELLA, Iowa— The holidays are an exciting time of the year, but with all the gatherings, parties, special treats at work, baked goods sitting at home, and the stress of trying to get everything perfect it is also a time when people tend to gain weight. The average American gains one to five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but most people don’t lose the weight they gain over the holidays and it keeps adding up year after year. “The goal should be to maintain and not gain weight during the holidays,” said Cathy Pollock, Education Dietitian at Pella Regional.

Pollock shares tips for eating healthier during the holidays:

Exercise: One of the main reasons for holiday weight gain is decreased physical activity. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent weight gain.

Portion Control: The amount of food eaten is as important as the food choices you make. You can still enjoy those special holiday foods and higher calorie foods, but just eat less of them. Instead of making a cake, make mini cupcakes or cut a pie into 12 servings instead of 8.

Meals: Do not skip meals the day of a family gathering or holiday event. Skipping breakfast or lunch before a big holiday dinner actually may cause you to overeat. Instead, eat smaller amounts with fewer calories knowing you will have a bigger meal later.

Slow Down: Take your time eating and you will be less likely to keep eating beyond the point of feeling full.

Ingredient Swap: Reduce calories in recipes. Here are a few to try:

  • Replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana, or pumpkin puree.
  • Cut the sugar in half.
  • Flavor recipes with vanilla, almond, or peppermint extract instead of butter and sugar.
  • Use different spices and herbs instead of salt and butter.
  • Bake, steam, or grill instead of fry.
  • Substitute low fat milk for heavy cream.
  • Replace cream cheese, sour cream, or mayo with Greek yogurt.
  • Replace half of the white flour with whole wheat flour in baked goods.

Liquid Calories: High calorie drinks such as egg nog, hot chocolate, and alcohol can put your calorie intake way over your limit. If you drink alcohol, select light beers and wine, rather than mixed drinks. Sipping a glass of water between holiday beverages will help you consume fewer of the high calorie drinks.

Healthier Choices: When you are hosting, make sure the menu includes lower calorie foods and when you are a guest, bring along a lower calorie dish to share. This way you have some control to ensure a healthier dish is available.

Sleep: Get plenty of sleep. Too little sleep tends to make people consume more calories due to increasing the hunger hormones and has also been linked to lower metabolism. Take time to rest and relax and truly enjoy the reason for the season.

Stress: The hustle and bustle of the holiday season may increase stress levels. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which may cause weight gain due to increased calorie intake and not making healthy choices. Physical activity is one of the best ways to help deal with stress.

Family and Friends: Make the holiday season about enjoying time with family and friends, rather than all about the food.

“With a little attention you can make it through the holidays without losing track of your healthy lifestyle,” said Pollock. “Even if you eat or drink more than usual during a gathering don’t let it extend for the entire season. For success, keep a regular exercise pattern and healthy diet during this time. After all, the great foods of the holidays are one of the pleasures of the season.”