By Elizabeth Dwyer Sandlin and Allan Stone

Navigating the Feast: Healthy Eating Strategies for the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and, unfortunately for many of us, an annual struggle to maintain a healthy diet. According to Kristen Gonzales, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology at The University of New Mexico Hospital, the average weight gain during the holidays ranges from 1-3 pounds. While this might seem modest, when compared to the yearly average, it is a significant contributor to long-term weight gain. However, with some mindful strategies and a bit of planning, it's possible to enjoy the festivities without compromising your health.

1. Understanding the Challenge:

Gonzales emphasizes that holiday meals pose a unique challenge. People often find themselves in environments where indulging in foods they wouldn't normally consume is the norm. It's essential to acknowledge these challenges and approach the holiday season with a balanced perspective.

2. Portion Control and Indulgences:

One key aspect of healthy eating during the holidays is mastering portion control. Gonzales advises allowing yourself some indulgences while being mindful of portion sizes. This way, you can enjoy your favorite holiday treats without overindulging and derailing your health goals.

3. Healthy Alternatives for Celebratory Meals:

If you're contributing to a holiday gathering, consider bringing dishes that offer a healthier twist on traditional favorites. Gonzales suggests incorporating healthy alternatives to mitigate the potential weight gain associated with holiday feasts. Swap out some ingredients for lighter options to make your contribution both delicious and nutritious.

4. Prioritize Physical Activity:

Despite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's crucial not to neglect physical activity. Gonzalez highlights that maintaining some level of physical activity is essential, even if it's as simple as taking short breaks to get up and move around between meals. Rather than succumbing to the post-feast nap, consider going for a walk or helping the host tidy up.

5. Planning Ahead:

Gonzales stresses the importance of planning ahead. Before the holiday season kicks into high gear, take some time to set realistic health goals.

6. Mindful Eating Strategies:

Implementing mindful eating strategies can be a game-changer during the holidays. Gonzales suggests slowing down the pace of eating, being aware of portion sizes, and reducing the intake of high-calorie foods. Packing healthy snacks for travel and leaving out nutritious options like fruit and veggie trays for grazing can also help maintain a balanced diet.

7. Share Your Goals:

Lastly, Gonzales recommends sharing your health goals with friends and family. By vocalizing your intentions, you create a support network who can help you stay on track during the holiday season. You might even find that other people in your network have health goals of their own for the holidays! Whether it's choosing healthier options together or encouraging physical activity, having a shared commitment to well-being can make a significant difference.

While the holidays can present challenges to maintaining a healthy diet, implementing these strategies can empower individuals to enjoy the season without compromising their well-being. By being mindful of portion sizes, incorporating healthy alternatives, prioritizing physical activity, planning ahead, and sharing goals with loved ones, we can navigate the holiday feast with both joy and good health.

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