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December 11, 2012 > You Can Indulge Without the Bulge

You Can Indulge Without the Bulge

Washington Hospital Dietitian Offers Tips for Eating Healthy During the Holidays

It's no surprise that Santa is overweight considering all the tempting treats that seem to be everywhere this time of year. Eggnog, pecan pie, stuffing, and other high-calorie foods are part of the holiday tradition. But there are ways to indulge during the holidays without the traditional weight gain.

"The average American will gain somewhere between five and 10 pounds from now through New Year's Day," said Kim Alvari, a registered dietitian and director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital. "The problem is many won't get the weight back off, so it's best not to put it on in the first place. You can still enjoy the holidays. It really comes down to planning."

She encourages people to sit down and think about what the month of December looks like in terms of activities and plan ahead. With shopping, holiday parties, family gatherings, and other commitments, she said most people are overbooked.

"It can get very chaotic without a basic plan," Alvari added. "That can be stressful, and stress causes most people to eat more. It's important to plan out your activities so you can anticipate what you need to get done and determine what is reasonable. Planning ahead can also help you avoid the tendency to overeat this time of year."

Alvari suggests "banking" calories so you can indulge in some of the treats you enjoy. For example, if you are going to a holiday party, try to eat a few hundred calories less than normal for two or three days before the event.

Choose Wisely

"Think about what matters most," she said. "You might enjoy many of the foods that are available this time of year, but you have had most of them before. So focus on the ones you really enjoy the most. Also, make smart choices when possible. For example, maybe you get just as much enjoyment out of pumpkin pie as you do pecan. A piece of pumpkin pie has 200 fewer calories than the pecan and a lot of good nutrients. So stick to pumpkin unless having a piece of pecan pie is really important to you."

People often drink more alcohol during the holidays, but alcohol is high in calories. She said consider how important a drink is to you. Would you rather have an alcoholic beverage or dessert?

Alvari said it's easier to make good choices if you don't go to a party famished. She recommends eating a light snack before you leave home.

"When you arrive at the party or event, look at the food table before you start eating," she added. "Walk up and down and see what there is so you can make your choices. If you don't, you will take everything because you don't know what else there is. Then if it's on your plate, you may feel obligated to eat it."

She also recommends offering to bring a dish to gatherings. That way you can bring a healthier option that you know you will enjoy.

Slim Down

There are ways to slim down many of your favorite recipes by substituting some of the ingredients, according to Alvari. For example, use nonfat or low-fat cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream instead of the full-fatted versions. Low-fat or nonfat Greek-style yogurt also serves as a good substitute for sour cream. Applesauce can be used in place of butter in some baked goods and adding nuts, whole oats, and dried fruits can make them healthier.

She said you can also slim down portion sizes by using smaller plates. She suggests a nine-inch plate instead of the standard 12-inch size.

"A smaller plate holds less food, so you can save 200 to 300 calories by reducing the size," Alvari added. "If you are hosting a gathering, do your guests a favor by providing a smaller plate."

Staying physically active can also help to reduce stress and keep the added pounds off during the holidays. Make time to go to the gym or take a walk.

"It really gets back to planning," Alvari said. "With a little planning, you can find time to exercise and avoid impulsive eating. Take healthy snacks with you when you go shopping so you aren't tempted to grab a cookie at the mall. Don't just eat because it's the holidays. Instead savor the foods you enjoy most and plan your eating so you can splurge on those special occasions when you want to go all out."

For more information about programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy, visit

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