Keeping Holiday Meals in Check

Tips for healthy eating at the holiday table—skip the eggnog, eat your colors, and stop thinking all or nothing.

By PT Staff, published on November 25, 2003 - last reviewed on November 15, 2007

Don't fret about overeating during the holidays. Worrying too
much may push you to overindulge. So relax and keep moderation in
mind.

You may think that the average American gains five pounds during the holidays, but Joy Short, the director of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis
University in Missouri, notes that this popular notion is an exaggeration. "Most
people, if they gain anything, pick up one-half to two pounds," she
says. Still, a pound every year can add up.

Short offers tips for the diet-minded—which may help you
stick with healthy foods in moderation:

  • Think color when putting food on your plate. The white
    plate—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes gravy and a roll—should
    be counterbalanced with colorful and more nutritionally valuable fruits
    and vegetables.
  • Some "bad" foods are better than others. While
    pecan nuts have been linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, pecan
    pie is loaded with calories. However, apple pie has less sugar and calories, and
    is also a good source of beta-carotene.
  • Hard cheeses have less fat than soft cheeses. Picking the
    most flavorful ones, notes Short, is a good way to eat smaller portions.
    Also, it's better to choose multigrain crackers over buttery
    ones.
  • If you drink, alternate with water; dehydration causes
    hangovers. Skip the eggnog, since it's high in saturated fat. Stick
    with red wine and dark beer, which have antioxidants that may help fight
    cancer and heart disease.
  • Go for fewer toppings—be it gravy, dressing or sour
    cream—and dish up smaller portions. "After all," says
    Short, "the first bite of an indulgent food tastes like the last.
    You don't really need a huge amount to satisfy your
    craving."

"When you obsess about what to eat at a holiday gathering,
you get into that all-or-nothing mentality," says Short.
"Then you overindulge and that leads to self-defeat."