Bariatrics and Weight Loss

Managing holiday meal portions is all the reason to celebrate

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Plate of roast meat, potatoes, and vegetables


Use these tips to manage meal portions during the holidays and stay happy and healthy.


By Laura Nahins, Registered Dietitian, Nuvance Health


The holidays are a time when you experience love and affection through food by gathering around the table with friends and family. You can still stick to healthy eating habits while enjoying delicious food with friends and family! Whether you are trying to manage your weight or just eat less, here are a few ways you can practice portion control during the holiday season.


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Tips to prevent overeating and overdrinking


Regular excessive eating or binge eating can lead to a higher risk for chronic health conditions and disease, weight gain, digestive issues and fatigue. Here are a few tips on how you can eat less and still enjoy your holiday meal.


Don’t go hungry: If you arrive at a holiday celebration with a temptation to overindulge, odds are you will. Instead, keep a normal routine and have a small but complete meal ahead of time, including fat, protein and fiber to keep hunger at bay. Some great mini meal options could be: 

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Half a turkey sandwich with a side of carrot sticks and dip
  • Tuna salad with crackers and crudités
  • Slice of whole wheat toast with avocado, fried egg and arugula

And if you do happen to overindulge, don’t sweat it. Just get back to your normal eating routine the next day and don’t skip meals to try and compensate for the prior day. One day of overindulgence will not wreck your long-term goals.


Keep your plate small: When you do partake in hors d’oeuvres or other tasty snacks, use a small plate or napkin to make more modest selections. Limit yourself to a single plate. Seek out veggies and high protein options, such as cheese, nuts, fruit and raw veggies with healthy dips such as hummus or tzatziki.


Be present while eating: It is easy to mindlessly eat while preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of a party. Take time to enjoy the food by chewing slowly and remain mindful when you are eating. Eating slowly helps your brain and stomach better communicate that you are full. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full. Eating slower gives your brain adequate time to process the feeling and relay the message. 


Pick your indulgences wisely: It may be helpful to choose between having appetizers or hors d’oeuvres, a drink or dessert to complement your main meal. Choosing one of these options will help keep you feeling satisfied, while avoiding overeating at your main meal.


Avoid grazing: Small snacks and bite-size appetizers can easily add up. To prevent overeating, add small portions of these items to your plate from the start then fill the rest of your plate with foods that will help keep you satisfied such nutrient dense and low-calorie veggies or whole grain options. Make it a point to seek out the veggie platter, fruit plate and cheese board which should contain items high in both protein and fiber, which are two macronutrients known to make you feel fuller.


Limit or avoid alcohol: To stay in the holiday spirit, drink alcohol with moderation. Stick to one or two drinks, sip slowly and dilute beverages with seltzer. Supplement alcoholic beverages with a glass of water after each drink to stay hydrated.


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If you are not drinking, you can still get into the holiday spirit with festive-themed non-alcoholic mocktails. Here are mocktail recipes to try at your next holiday party: 

  • Apple cider with seltzer, fresh cranberries and a cinnamon stick for garnish
  • Apple and cranberry juices, soda water, cranberries and sprig of rosemary for garnish
  • Cranberry juice, seltzer and fresh cranberries for garnish
  • Diet ginger ale, splash of cranberry juice and sprig of rosemary for garnish
  • Diet ginger ale with a spoonful of raspberry sherbet; rim glass with red or green sugar
  • Hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick. 

Expand your horizons and try a fun drink, such as Kombucha, for a little healthy probiotic twist. Use seltzer with a splash of pomegranate juice and a candy cane garnish.


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Manage how you eat during holiday meals


Decorate your plate: A holiday meal should reflect a sense of normalcy within your daily eating habits. Fill half of your plate with veggies, including salad or other greens, and include protein to keep you fuller longer. Remember, don’t skip healthy carbohydrates, which will help keep you feeling satisfied. Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grain, complex carbs. Healthy options include whole grain pasta or rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes.


Enjoy dessert: Don’t beat yourself up over dessert! If you have a sweet tooth, then pick one dessert to enjoy. Choose a special, holiday dessert and one that you enjoy eating only a few times a year. Allowing yourself to have holiday cookies, cakes or pies may prevent you from overeating other desserts that you may not really be craving.


Bring your own: If you are on a restrictive diet or counting calories, offer to bring your own dish to the holiday party. There are plenty of modifications for classic holiday recipes available online. If you want to bring a dish to the party while keeping all the guests in mind, side dishes like a small cheeseboard with berries, pears and walnuts or roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic and balsamic glaze are healthy alternatives everyone can enjoy. You may also try modifying classical favorites, such as using low-fat or dairy-free options in green bean casseroles, mashed potatoes or even trying a crustless pumpkin pie.


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The bottom line: The holidays are a special time of the year when you can celebrate and enjoy food with the company of friends and family. Portioning your food and planning to eat healthily doesn’t mean you have to take pleasure out of your holiday traditions. If you get off track, remember to stay positive and get back to your routine the next day. Happy holidays!


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