Gravy boats are waiting to sail you away to the land of bigger pant sizes this holiday. But Denver dietitian Suzanne Martin, a registered nurse with a Ph.D., says you can still enjoy waist-busting pleasures responsibly, and has served up some tips on how to navigate the holiday table.
But first, you need to understand why most of us throw good eating habits overboard during this season. "I think it's the stress, the busyness, the festivities and wanting foods people do not normally have during other times of the year," Martin says. "Poor eating habits can cause weight gain, but it's not only the sweets and high fat foods people have to watch out for. All foods have calories."
Responsible eating during the holidays requires not only moderation, but good decision- making and planning. "It's really about thinking ahead and trying to modify your behavior so that you eat reasonably and have a variety of foods," Martin explains. "People can take control of their eating by not going to Christmas parties on an empty stomach. Have a snack an hour before you go to a party, like cottage cheese or low-fat yogurt that is high in protein, and it will help to reduce the hunger feeling."
Consider not just the quantity of the food but also its quality: There are healthy alternatives that will reduce caloric amounts without adding prep time. "Instead of frying foods, grill them," Martin says. "Use the oil spray instead of oil when sautéeing, and steaming vegetables is a great way to give food more flavor. There's a lot of controversy about different types of sweeteners, like high-fructose corn syrup, being bad for you or making you hungrier, but all sweets have about the same calories and are metabolized in the body at the same rate."
During the holidays, Martin likes to substitute heavy appetizers with lighter fare. "I'm kind of partial to raw vegetables and different kinds of dips made from low-fat sour cream," she says. "You can dress up vegetable plates with red and green vegetables, and the more colorful food, is the more nutritious it is." Because fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, they fill you up faster, too, she notes.
A dietitian's work is never done, and as a part of a nationwide registered dietitian network, Martin's expertise is called on often this time of year. "We try to get the message out that the holidays are not the time to diet," she says. "People should try to maintain their present weight, eat a variety of foods, have a balanced diet and exercise. If you want to add things like cookies and homemade fudge to the buffet table, that is fine -- but you should focus on the natural and healthy foods that are primarily low in fat."
And if there's a high-fat treat holiday treat you can't resist, Martin has one piece of advice: Eat a smaller slice.