The holidays can be a special time to celebrate with friends, family and food. And contrary to popular belief, you can do that without putting on extra pounds! On average, Americans gain one to two pounds during the holiday season. While this weight gain isn't dramatic, research shows it tends to stick and to accumulate over the years. This holiday season, focus on maintaining your current weight and achieving a healthy balance of food, exercise and holiday festivities.

Success is possible by eating mindfully and applying a few simple strategies. The strategies to help you avoid overeating are numerous. Using a smaller plate, for instance, allows you to put less food on your plate and encourages proper portion sizes. Holiday meals tend to be large and may encourage second and third helpings. Instead of anticipating the next serving, pay attention to what is on your plate. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Special times often include special people. Appreciate this time of conviviality along with the food.

Here are some additional tips for holiday and year-round meal times:

  • Eat breakfast and don’t skip meals. Research shows that those who eat a healthy morning meal tend to consume fewer calories throughout the day.  Plus, skipping meals may mean arriving at a function ravenous which can result in less self-control.
  • Eat fiber-rich foods. Include lots of fiber in your diet by eating beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. High-fiber foods are high in volume, can be low in calories and can satisfy hunger for hours after a meal.
  • Fill your half your plate with vegetables or salad. Research shows eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall.  Vegetables are nutrient-dense and can be low in calories.
  • Focus on the special foods. Holidays can be a time to enjoy once-a-year special treats.Choose those first and ignore calorie-laden foods you will have access to all through the year.
  • Take a break. Before heading for the dessert line, allow 10 minutes for your food to settle.You may find that you will take smaller portions or that you will want to skip dessert all together.  
  • Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday party. You will then know there is at least one dish you can enjoy without guilt.
  • Mind the liquid calories. Eggnog and other holiday drinks can contribute as many calories as an entrée or dessert. A small taste may be enough to satisfy, or you may want to have a “nog” as dessert.
  • If you do overeat, go lighter on the next meal. This is not meant as punishment, but instead as a way of reducing the risk of increased weight.
  • Finally, after a meal, consider engaging in some physical activity. This is a great time to go for a walk and catch up with family members or friends. Enjoy the season.If you have questions, feel free to contact me at nancyteeter@gmail.com.

Nancy Teeter is a SaddleBrooke resident and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.