We’ve probably all read articles about healthy holiday eating, and thought, “Hey, good ideas, but they’ll never work!”  I’m here to tell you that you can eat more healthfully, and it can be simple, if you plan ahead a little.

First, don’t panic!  The notion that most people gain many pounds over the holidays is a myth.  The average weight gain is about a pound, according to several studies. That’s the good news.  The bad news is that we usually don’t lose that pound we put on. So, you don’t weigh what you weighed when you graduated high school, it could be because each holiday season added a pound to your waistline.

How to come out of the holidays without any more pounds than you came in with? Here are a few ideas that I like. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and different strategies work for each of us.

  1. Crank up the movement!  If you already walk or do other aerobic exercise, add a little to what you do now.  Even if you add five minutes, that will help burn the extras off.  And you’ll be more fit to boot!  If you don’t do any regular exercise, this is the time to start.  If you’ve been considering a trial gym membership to see if you’ll like it, do it now.  Or get out and walk at lunch (or walk the halls where you work, or do mall walking).  Keeping that pound from joining you is a lot easier than getting it to leave later, so start the exercise New Year’s resolution early!
  2. At a party or buffet, fill half your plate with some salad and/or fruit right away.  If you’re not sure there’ll be any, bring some yourself.
  3. Do a reconnaissance mission around the buffet table or party food, and take small portions of three or four foods that look really fabulous to you.  (In other words, don’t take the boring white roll just because it’s there.)  Remember, it’s the first couple of bites that really taste wonderful.  After that, your taste buds get used to it and it doesn’t taste as fab.  Also, the more variety on the plate, the more we eat, because it all tastes different…it’s those first three bites over and over.  So, limit the variety by not stacking or cramming on the plate.
  4. Use a smaller plate if possible. If sandwich plates are available, use those. If you’re really hungry, you can go back for more, if you’re still hungry five or ten minutes after you finish.  High fat foods are quite filling, so you may not be.
  5. Stick to no more than one alcoholic beverage. It’s both calories and a strategy-blower.
  6. At the office, use distancing as a strategy. Keep all holiday goodies in the break room or other space that’s not where you sit, and make a deal with yourself that one visit there, for one small item, is all for each day. (If you get two breaks, make the other one a “movement” break.) The closer we are to food, the more of it we eat. This is not a character flaw; it’s an ancient survival skill that has come back to bite us in the modern era.

Those are my favorite strategies. Do you have ones that work for you? You can share them if you like, in your comments to this post.

Maryann Ludlow, RD, CD, CDE, is a registered dietitian at the UVM Medical Center.

Maryann Ludlow is a registered dietitian at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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