Ready or not, here it comes: The holiday season is upon us. Soon we'll all be submerged in a solid month or more of food, parties, food, festive cocktails, more food...and did we mention the food?
It's the same challenge every year, but even if you've given into a holiday binge-fest in the past, this year can be different. If you're ready to try some healthy tactics to combat the traditional calorie overload, you're in luck: Virtua registered dietitian April Schetler is here to help with some quick tips and creative food swaps.
Tip 1: Exercise the morning of the holiday
"We seem to have an unspoken rule about this in our culture: You don't exercise on holidays. But why not? It makes you feel great, and you're setting yourself up to make better food choices later in the day," says Schetler. Taking some time out to exercise on a holiday will leave you feeling proud of your accomplishment and less likely to blow it on a big meal. And if you're among the many Americans for whom the holidays bring on stress, anxiety, or depression, you've just boosted your spirits with those feel-good exercise hormones. To top it all off, you'll earn major bragging points at the dinner table later on.
Tip 2: Bring something to the party
"First, identify your temptation," says Schetler. Is it the appetizers? The side dishes? The desserts? Whatever it is you're most likely to binge on, that's the focus for your soiree supplementation. Bring a healthy alternative to the party, and bring enough to share with the other guests - your host and your body will love you for it. "I can't tell you how many times I've been thanked for bringing something as simple as a veggie tray to a holiday party," says Schetler. "Even people who aren't dieting appreciate a fresh, healthy snack in the midst of all the heavy traditional holiday dishes."
Tip 3: Consider a festive "food swap"
While we're talking about healthy alternatives: Schetler is all about turning a fattening recipe on its head with her nutritional know-how. Here are just a few of the ways she cuts calories and adds nutrition and volume to her holiday favorites:
- If you're partial to pumpkin pie
Try Schetler's pumpkin cake instead: "All you do is start with a store-bought box of cake mix - I recommend a vanilla, carrot, or spice cake - and instead of adding the oil and eggs the box calls for, mix in a 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree and bake according to the package directions." That's pure pumpkin, ladies, not pumpkin pie filling. "And no icing," says Schetler, "though I do often top it off with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar. You can even bake it into muffin cups to help with portion control. Throw in nuts or raisins, even." Any pumpkin lover, dieting or not, will almost certainly enjoy it.
- If mashed potatoes are your must-have
"You can go two ways here," says Schetler. "Stick with regular mashed potatoes and have a few bites. Or consider mixing in a food swap and scoop a whole cup onto your plate." Here's something to try - half potatoes, half mashed cauliflower. "It's going to taste extremely similar, but the cauliflower has way fewer calories per ounce, allowing you to enjoy more of it without the guilt." Mashed sweet potatoes are another healthier alternative: sweet potatoes have more nutritional value and a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, meaning they'll make you feel full longer. "Add nonfat sour cream or nonfat buttermilk to get the consistency you want, then throw in a little brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg," says Schetler. "Yum!"
- If you're a dedicated dipper
You're not alone - really, who doesn't like to dip? Even the healthiest among us can't deny that those raw veggies are just begging for a little extra oomph from time to time. So, here's the deal: "Try swapping out the calorie-laden mayo and sour cream in most dip recipes with nonfat sour cream or plain nonfat yogurt. Or, if you're not ready to go full force with nonfat fillers, try swapping out half. You'll never know the difference!" Schetler also likes hummus as a dipping alternative, but keep in mind that it's still relatively calorie-dense, and it's quite possible to overdo it if you don't watch your portions.
Try these tips and report back in January; we're willing to bet you'll have a healthier, happier holiday season than you ever thought possible!
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Virtua's registered dietitians assist individuals of all ages in making healthier choices by developing a food plan tailored to their needs. A registered dietitian can design a food plan based on lifestyle, activity level, weight, medical history and more. For more information about Virtua's Center for Weight Management, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 (1-888-847-8823).