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The holidays don't have to be a balanced diet’s worst enemy

Does the holiday season leave you dreaming of sugarplums? Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you’ll most likely indulge a little over the holiday season. And research shows that overindulgence this time of year can cause people to gain between one and five pounds by the time the New Year rolls around.

To make up for eating all those Christmas goodies, many of us promise to make healthier changes in January. Unfortunately, though, we sometimes use weight-loss resolutions to give ourselves permission to overindulge. The reality is only 12 per cent of people are successful with New Year’s resolutions, but regardless of whether you set a resolution or not, weight gain is usually permanent.

If Scrooge were a dietitian he’d give you the typical no-fun health advice: avoid unhealthy foods and alcohol, and exercise daily. Depending on whether you can unhappily decline holiday treats, this advice could lead to a not-so-merry Christmas. The holidays are a time to celebrate and socialize, and with that comes the enjoyment of delicious food and drink. The hustle and bustle makes it easy to fall out of a healthy routine. Luckily, I’ve got a few tips to keep you on track.

Pre-think your Christmas

Make a plan and set goals. Find a balance you can live with, and decide what’s realistic for you. If you can’t happily eat less over Christmas, you likely won’t. Stay motivated by deciding on a reason for staying on track. It could be to improve your mobility or to avoid or manage disease. This reason will be your driving force to stay focused even in the most tempting festive situations.

Recognize your holiday eating habits. What’s worked or not worked in the past? What are you willing to change? Perhaps you’ll give yourself one day to indulge, or allow yourself a little at many events.

Go into the Christmas season ready to forgive yourself. If you fall off track, you haven’t ruined it; just know how to get back on. If you can stay healthy over Christmas, it’s likely you’ll continue into the New Year.

Set Goals And Stay Accountable

Don’t aim to lose weight during the holidays, but try to keep it stable. Calorie counting and journaling can be a good way to control of what you eat. If that’s too tedious, check your weight at the beginning of the holidays, and then monitor it every couple of days.

Hunger and thirst can lead to poor choices, increased cravings and overeating. Before you head out, fill the void with a light meal or snack such as yogurt, salad and chicken, or hummus and pita. Drink plenty of water. If you know you’re likely to indulge at the event, save calories by choosing healthier items throughout the day, but don’t skip meals.

Eat and drink from smaller plates, bowls and glasses. You’ll eat fewer calories but be just as satisfied. If you’re baking and cooking, make smaller squares, cookies, candy and hors d’oeuvres.

Ever catch yourself mindlessly eating something because it’s there or feeling obligated because it was offered? Assess food spreads and start with filling most of your plate with the healthier choices like salad, vegetables and fruits.

Research shows people eat fewer calories when a buffet is set up from the healthiest options to the least healthy because we tend to run out of space on our plate as we move down the line. (You can even test if it works on your oblivious family and guests.)

Make your indulgences count by narrowing them down to the Christmas treats you love most. If it’s a tough choice, take smaller portions of each, or split with a friend. For foods you’ve never tasted, take a little bite to determine whether it’s worth finishing.

Make Substitutions

You can modify calories without sacrificing flavour. Consider these substitutions: Use plain Greek yogurt or puréed cottage cheese in dips instead of mayonnaise or sour cream. In muffins and cakes, use a combination of applesauce and buttermilk instead of oil or butter. And switch out cream for low-fat evaporated milk in custards and desserts.

Whether it’s a can of pop, glass of fruit juice or alcoholic beverage so many of our favourite holiday drinks are full of sugar and empty calories. You not only get the calories from the drink itself, but overindulging in alcoholic beverages can lead us to make poor food choices. Just as with food, you can substitute some ingredients in drinks for lower calorie alternatives.

Use light eggnog and skim milk in your rum and eggnog, for example. Have a wine spritzer (wine with soda) instead of a full glass of wine. And use diet pop in drinks like rum and cokes, and gin and tonics.

Outsmart Holiday Saboteurs

The pushy relative, co-worker or friend may have the best of intentions but can sabotage your healthy plan. Saying no can be awkward or feel like you’re insulting the individual. Practice assertiveness, and try to avoid explaining why you don’t want a second piece of pie.

Keep it short and polite by repeating, “Thank you but I’ve had enough.” You can also tell them, “Maybe I’ll have more in a little while,” with no intention of having more. After several offers, they’ll move on to the next target. It could also be sometimes that you’re the holiday saboteur. You may want to ease off next time you feel the urge to offer again.

Get Back On Track

This busy time of year makes it difficult to exercise but every little bit counts. Try to fit in a 20-minute power walk, a skate with your family or a night on the dance floor. Not only will you burn calories but you'll also help keep your mental health in check during the holiday chaos.

Gautreau now lets artists and others in need of a break from modern life take personal retreats at the Shenstone cabin and sauna. It’s a place where they can reflect and gain perspective.

One day of overeating is not going to cause weight gain, but too many treats and numerous days of excessive eating definitely could. If you fell completely off the rails over Christmas and put on a few pounds, avoid feeling shame. Leave old habits and regrets in the past. Get support from community health programs or consult with a dietitian to help you get back on track.

This article was published in the Good Taste, Fall 2014 issue

Maureen Tilley is a registered Dietitian and author of Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt!

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