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Ho Ho Holy S*#%, Don't Eat That!

6 secrets to enjoying holiday treats without hating yourself in the morning.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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In my mind, “The Holidays” officially begin when I receive an Evite from my friend Steph for her annual Holidaze party. Steph is a serious hostess and her yearly soiree includes an open bar, live music, and a ton of food, including two turkeys, prepared two different ways. She spends hours brining those beasts for hungry friends and family who look forward to whatever food adventure she decides to take us on.

The event usually takes place in mid-October, which marks the beginning of my own annual feeding frenzy, in which I partake in every culinary tradition I can get myself invited to. Come January 1, bloated and full of regret, I repent in the form of moderate self-loathing, half-hearted resolutions, and the beginning of many hours clocked on the Peloton in our basement.

Eating is among my favorite hobbies. But as the years go by, I’m finding that the pounds are hanging on and I’m not able to work them off like I used to. So I reached out to Nina Eng, chief clinical dietitian at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital, for some personal level-setting and advice on how to do better while still enjoying the festivities. Here’s what she suggests:

1. Have a plan of attack

If you know you’re going to be faced with some tough caloric decisions, take a look at what’s being served before you sit down to dinner. If you’re hosting, even better, because you have control over the menu. “It’s important to practice mindful eating,” Eng says. That means deciding ahead of time what you want to consume and being in the moment when you eat it. “Hit the salad and vegetables first. Put a lot on your plate. Then go for the protein and starches,” says Eng. “If they’re covered in gravy and glazes, just take a little. It’ll satisfy your craving and you can always go back for more if you still want it.”

2. Slow down, but don’t stop altogether

If you think starving yourself all day so you can splurge on a big meal at night is a good idea, think again. “Your inclination might be to skip breakfast, but actually, that’ll make you too hungry and you’ll be more likely to binge on the bad stuff later on,” says Eng. So be sure to eat small meals or snacks throughout the day to maintain your blood sugar and to prevent yourself from overindulging.

And eat slowly so your brain can catch up. While sitting down for dinner, Eng says, “Take your time, enjoy it, and chew slowly. Even if you’re at a cocktail party, take it slow.” This will allow your body to catch up to what you are feeding it. Otherwise, you won’t realize you’re full until it’s too late. Another of Eng’s tricks—gulp down a large glass of water prior to sitting down for a meal. “It will help fill your belly and make you want to eat less.”

3. When faced with apps, think small…plate

When trolling the hors d’oeuvres, grab a small plate if one is available. “It’s hard to judge how much you’re eating if you just walk around and pick,” says Eng. “If you place all the appetizers on one small plate, you can see exactly what you’re taking in.” If a plate is not available, use a napkin. The key is enjoying yourself without regretting it later. If you focus on a few favorite apps to enjoy and skip the ones you could take or leave, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

4. Make the main course about friends and family—not food

It sounds hokey, but try to remember why you and your loved ones gathered in the first place. It’s not about the food—it’s about being together. “Food has come to mean love in our society. But it doesn’t have to. Enjoy the food, but focus on the important stuff,” Eng says. If it’s Christmas, take your time exchanging gifts and laughing together. On Thanksgiving, go around the table and take turns sharing what you’re thankful for. Laugh together, share stories. Eng even suggests starting a new tradition, like playing football or taking a walk after a meal, rather than sitting at the table and picking for hours. “Enjoy one another and make the food secondary to that,” she says. “And the exercise will help burn some of the calories you just took in.”

5. Beware of liquid holiday cheer

Those festive cocktails are a lot of fun, but they have tons of hidden calories—a glass of egg nog can contain anywhere from 200 to 500 calories, depending on the brand or recipe, and more saturated fat than a Big Mac. “It’s OK to splurge, but just have a few sips,” suggests Eng. “Then move on to water or seltzer.” Another option is to make a healthier version of whichever holiday classic you enjoy—there are tons of recipes online.

If you enjoy a second—or third—cocktail, Eng suggests a spritzer: A small amount of wine mixed with club soda. “It’s lower in calories, tastes delicious, and you still have a drink in your hand to hold onto and toast with.”

And keep in mind that alcohol can increase your appetite. You’ve been warned.

6. Get creative

Fun fact: “The average American gains four to seven pounds each holiday season. And most don’t lose the weight before the following year," says Eng. So save calories where you can. “If 3,500 calories is one pound gained, do the math. It adds up quickly!” Eng says there are lots of “work-arounds” to satisfy any craving, including:

  • Replace frozen apps with fresh shrimp cocktail—it’s still a special snack, and it’s much lighter and lower in calories.
  • Replace regular sour cream with yogurt or non-fat sour cream in dips.
  • Use cucumbers and endive spears instead of chips for dipping.
  • Serve baked potatoes or sweet potatoes instead of the mashed or caramelized compote varieties. And then cut them in half, so the serving size is reduced.
  • Bake latkes instead of frying them.
  • Make a topless pie to avoid the extra crust or put desserts in “shooter” glasses to control the serving size.
  • When baking, cut butter and shortening in half by replacing with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana.

Ultimately, Eng reassures, it’s OK to indulge here and there. Just remember to rein it in at the end of the celebration. “Everything in moderation. Just make conscious decisions about what you consume.” And if you overdo it? “Don’t throw in the towel,” she says. “Just start again tomorrow.”

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Published November 20th, 2018

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