Company's Coming! 6 Ways to Save Your Diet

Having houseguests doesn't have to wreak havoc on your waistline.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Holidays and houseguests go together like -- well, roast beef and mashed potatoes, or apple pie and ice cream. And that can be a problem for the host or hostess who is watching his or her weight.

Holidays, guests, and food can be the trifecta of seasonal weight gain, experts say. From the temptations of all those candy dishes filled to the brim, to missing your regular workouts, to a few too many toasts to the season, the combination can be a veritable calorie minefield.

"Some people look for an excuse to go off their diet, or not exercise," says Jo-Anne Rizzotto, RD, a nutritionist and diabetes educator at the Joslin Clinic in Boston. "And when you haven't seen someone in a long time, and they come to stay, well, it can give you that reason."

What's more, the longer guests stay in your home, the more tempted you may be to veer off the path of healthy living.

"This not only presents problems for those trying to lose weight, it can be even more harmful for those with conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease" that require a special diet, says Toby Amidor, RD, a nutrition instructor in the culinary department of the Art Institute of New York City.

But with a little planning and creative thinking, the experts say, you can stick to your healthy habits -- and maybe even help your guests acquire a few new ones.

To help get you started, our experts put together six non-fattening ways to fill your home with holiday cheer.

1. Roll Out the Welcome Wagon

Ever since the Pilgrims invented our first major "food holiday" at Plymouth Rock, Americans have equated food with hospitality. But we don't really need boxes of chocolates or tubs of eggnog to make our guests feel welcome, Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, tells WebMD.

"There are lots of ways to show people they are welcome in your home without buying out the grocery store," says Blatner, a nutritionist and dietitian at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago.

Among her suggestions: Stock your guest room with their favorite magazines or DVDs, and have their favorite CDs playing on the stereo. Fill the guest bathroom with luxurious soaps, shower gels, and body creams your guests can use, then take with them when they leave.

"The point is to go out of your way to make your guests feel special without relying on food," says Blatner.

2. Offer Plenty of Variety

You can't expect your guests to love every food on your particular eating plan. But, the experts say, the more variety of healthy foods you have on hand, the more likely it is that your guests will find something they like.

"If, for example, fruit is on your diet, buy lots of different kinds of fruit; if yogurt is on your list of foods, then stock your fridge with every flavor you can think of -- and go for the exotics and maybe the slightly costlier brands that will wow your guests and give them a treat," says Blatner.

Rizzotto agrees, and adds: "Variety also means planning for yourself, so make sure there are enough things you can eat -- like raw vegetables, pita wedges, and low-fat dips," she says. Then, if you decide to feed your guests high-calorie fare, you'll have something healthy to nibble on as well.

Another important tip: Have plenty of non-alcoholic or lower-calorie alcoholic drinks available.

"By and large, a huge portion of our entertaining calories are spent on holiday beverages, with eggnog being the worst offender," says Blatner.

If you have other options on hand -- like sparkling cider, wine spritzers, or light beer -- everyone can take part in the toasting without the guilt.

"You may be surprised to learn how many folks will welcome the chance to save up their calories for the dinner instead of spending them all on the alcohol drinks," adds Blatner.

3. Learn the Art of Creative Substitution

One simple way to keep your holidays healthy is to prepare lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of traditional foods.

"Make your houseguests part of your healthy lifestyle."

"Most every traditional holiday dish can be adapted to fit your eating plan, if you just cut down, not cut out, high-calorie ingredients such as sugar or oils," Amidor tells WebMD.

Most guests will never tell the difference, she says. If you are afraid yours will, Amidor says, prepare two versions -- one using the traditional, high-calorie recipe, and the other using a low-fat, low-sugar, or low-sodium recipe.

"You never have to use the phrase 'diet food'," Amidor says. "Just play up the ingredients in each and let people decide on their own what they want to try."