Tips for staying on track during holiday meals

Whether you count, calories, carbs, points or minutes until your next meal, Thanksgiving can be the beginning of a tricky time for people trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Family and social events are more heavily centered around food this time of year than any other in the western calendar. It’s not that just that food is available, food is pushed at us from all directions. Food is given as gifts and displays of affection and when that happens it can be difficult to refuse.

Next week will begin my fourth holiday season of weight loss and with a little planning and will power it will become my fourth holiday season to shed pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year. It is not always easy, much of my holiday stress comes from thinking about what I need to do to avoid temptations.

I have a few mantras I like to keep in mind to help me say no to food I haven’t planned for:

  • “Nothing tastes as good as losing weight feels.” This is not always true. I have had a handful of foods that tasted so good my toes curled and my eyes got misty. However, the chances of a day-old cookie in the break room being too good to pass up, are slim to none.
  • “If I don’t know what I’m missing, I don’t know what I’m missing.” Simple as that. There is no way to over indulge in a baked good that I don’t try in the first place.
  • Finally, “I have rarely regretted not eating something but I have frequently regretted something I ate.” This can run the gamut from stomach discomfort to nagging guilt and I would prefer to avoid all regret.

Over the last few years my husband and I have come up with some techniques to get through a holiday meal without derailing spectacularly. Last night we discussed a few of them so I could share our tips but also to get ready ourselves.

Plan Ahead. I like to scope out what assignments everyone has and find out the recipes they are using. This can be an easy casual conversation since most people like to recipe swap anyway. When I am given a food assignment, I always make something I know I will be comfortable eating. “Pumpkin Pie? Sure no problem.” Then I choose a lighter version and just show up (see the yummy pie recipe below).

Keep Planning. Planning ahead also includes mapping out the entire day’s menu. This may sound a bit boring but once I know what I want to eat and the quantity I have a much easier time relaxing and enjoying being with friends and family. This is also a time to think about which foods I really want to have on my holiday plate and those I can live without. Planning in advance helps me look forward to the meal and ignore things that I haven’t planned for. Without a good plan in place I may wind up spending the evening having a staring contest with plate of puffed dough appetizers. And losing.

Eat. It is super important to eat light meals and snacks on the day of a large holiday dinner. Showing up famished is a good way to kiss your best intentions good bye. We like to have a nice filling breakfast, probably oatmeal, and a light lunch of soup with fruits and veggies on the side. I also tend to turn into a bit of an anxious maniac when my blood sugar gets too low, not the person I want to be on a day of celebrating. “Hangry” anyone?

Measure your food. My husband and I are not at all shy about showing up to a holiday dinner with our food scale and some measuring cups. Since I already have a plan of what I will be eating I like to have a couple of tools available to keep me honest. We just pop into the kitchen and measure out some turkey, bread, potatoes, stuffing or whatever else we are going to eat and casually return to the table. Half the time I don’t think people even notice. If this sounds completely ridiculous there are other ways to eyeball food portions. You can find some here.

When you are done, be done. One of the hardest things about a holiday eating can be ending the meal. I have to work to tune out food that is still sitting on the table begging to be nibbled. One thing I like to do is take seconds of whatever salad, plain vegetable, or fruit is available. By choosing these light foods I can continue to munch knowing I am not continuing to load up on calories. These foods also help, ahem, move out the heavier ones later. If paper napkins are being used I might just plop my napkin on my plate or if others are winding down it is always polite to offer to clear the table.

Don’t be in the kitchen alone! This is one of those bad news situations that should be avoided entirely. The kitchen is where all the tidbits that you so studiously planed to avoid are waiting to sing you their siren song. Just don’t go there!

Finally, EAT DESSERT! I would never have been successful losing weight if it meant giving up dessert. My husband and I used to relish telling people that we ate ice cream every night (slow churned style that we measured). When it comes to holidays I’ve got to have some dessert and that is what the plan is for. I like to bring a dessert that we share with everyone but know how many points or calories a serving will be. This year I am making a lighter pumpkin pie (see below) with all the flavor and texture of a traditional pie but less fat, calories, and sugar. Once I top it with a dollop of whipped topping and some nutmeg I’ll be in pie heaven!

Follow these tips and you can look forward to any holiday feast without abandoning your health goals. And remember: If you slip there is no reason to get down on yourself — the day after Thanksgiving is a great day to get right back on the wagon!

And if you are still on the look out for lighter versions, here are 30 family-approved recipes!

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