Spring Holiday Strategies

Help your diet survive the season of chocolate bunnies and matzo brei

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

For many of us, holidays turn into a no-holds-barred food frenzy in which we break any diet rules we may have during the rest of the year. Stuffing ourselves with dishes we eat but once a year; having lots of rich, fatty foods; and eating and drinking late into the night - does this sound familiar?

There are several reasons the Easter /Passover season can tempt us to abandon our healthy eating plans. During this time of year, we typically:

  • Indulge in high fat, high calorie foods
  • Literally "feast" at our holiday feasts, eating large amounts of food at one sitting.
  • Often eat these extra-large meals in the evening, just a few hours before we turn in for the night.
  • Tend to celebrate by drinking festive beverages, and festive beverages usually come with a high calorie cost.
  • Eat out and at other people's homes more than usual during the holiday season. In both situations, the cooks are usually not concerned with health and lower calorie cooking.

So what can you do? Here are some tips to help you have a weight-gain-free holiday:

1. Stop eating or drinking at around 7 p.m. This will help cut down on needless "extras" (extra drinks, desserts, second helpings and extra calories).

2. Ask for a SLIVER. If there is a food, dessert, or appetizer you really want to try, try a "sliver" of a portion and eat it slowly so you really enjoy it. You don't need a big piece of something to satisfy your curiosity.

3. Beware of beverages. You'd be amazed at how quickly calories from beverages can add up. Drinks often pack a big calorie punch because they're high in sugar, fat, or alcohol. With all the yummy food around, do you really want to spend a big portion of your calorie budget on drinks? Choose beverages with no calories instead. Seltzer water with a twist of lemon or lime tastes and looks great but contributes zero calories. Other no- or low-calorie drink options include unsweetened or artificially sweetened iced tea, hot tea, coffee (decaf or caffeinated), and, of course, diet soft drinks.

4. Relax during the holidays as much as you can. Emotional stress and anxiety can aggravate bad eating habits (such as compulsive overeating or undereating).

5. Whatever you do, keep exercising! Staying on track with your exercise program is particularly important during the holidays. This will help reduce stress and keep your metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn just maintaining your body) high.

6. Keep portions to a minimum. As hard as this sounds, try not to eat those "till you explode" large meals. Passing up seconds will usually do the trick. I know everything tastes good, so bring leftovers home and enjoy the whole dinner again -- tomorrow.

7. Make better choices. When confronted with the typical holiday nibbles, know which ones are more likely to fit into your healthy eating plan (dishes that are lower in fat, higher in fiber, and higher in important nutrients).

8. BYOD (Bring your own dish). Offer to bring foods to the party or holiday meal that you know willbe a healthier choice. You can bring lower fat/lower calorie renditions of favorite holiday foods.

9. Try ingredient substitutions. It's amazing what a difference a few ingredient substitutions can make. Here are a few examples:

  • Use light cream cheese instead of regular in your holiday dips, spreads, and cheesecakes to trim about 16 grams of fat per cup of cream cheese.
  • Use a great tasting fat free sour cream for dips, spreads, and potato dishes, and cut about 320 calories and 35 grams of fat per cup of sour cream.
  • Use reduced fat cheese in your appetizers and side dishes. This will cut 36 grams of fat and 320 calories for every 8 ounces.
  • Make your dips, side dishes and appetizers with a mixture of real mayonnaise and fat-free sour cream (for every cup you need, blend 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 3/4 cup fat-free sour cream). This will trim more than 1,000 calories and 132 grams of fat per cup of mayonnaise.
  • When using eggs in a recipe, try using half real eggs and half an egg substitute (1/4 cup of egg substitute replaces one egg). Or, use egg whites in place of some or all of the whole eggs in the recipe (two whites replaces one egg).

Originally published April 2003
Medically updated March 2006.


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