Instead of Gaining Weight Over the Holidays, Make Smart Food Choices

Healthy eating and the holidays are two terms that most people don't usually associate with one another. In fact, studies show that the average American gains 1 to 2 pounds during the holiday season. Although this weight gain is not dramatic, it tends to stick around and accumulate over the years. There are ways to avoid holiday weight gain while still enjoying friends, family and holiday festivities—it just takes a little planning.

In preparation for holiday celebrations, don't skip meals—this could result in overeating later in the day. Stay hydrated by sipping on water throughout the day. When at holiday parties and events, scan the food options and fill your plate with foods that are simply prepared, served without sauces and aren't fried. Choose more fruits and vegetables and other foods high in fiber; these foods are high in volume but lower in calories and will satisfy hunger. Try using a smaller plate to encourage smaller portion sizes. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Remember to be mindful of alcohol consumption as well.

More: 10 Strategies to Prevent the Holiday Bulge

Here are six ways to trim calories without compromising tradition or flavor:

Make smart choices. Plan meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Choose foods that are rich in nutrients but lower in fat, calories and sugar. For example, serve white meat instead of dark meat and leave the skin behind. Skip the stuffing and choose a simple brown rice side dish. Make sure your plate has at least one vegetable.

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Go easy on heavy, fat-laden appetizers that are typically seen around the holidays. Stick to light, satisfying hors d' oeuvres like shrimp cocktail, whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese, vegetables with low-fat yogurt dip or hummus and fresh fruit.

Go simple. Add more simple vegetable dishes instead of other heavier versions. Stick to simple peas or corn versus creamed versions, steamed green beans instead of green bean casserole and roasted sweet potatoes with a sprinkle of cinnamon versus sweet potato casserole.

More: Easy, Stress-Free Holiday Recipes for People Who Hate to Cook

Be mindful of food preparation. Roast or grill meats, seafood, vegetables and potatoes instead of frying them. Go easy when adding nuts, cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream.

Use healthy substitutions. Cook with low-sodium chicken stock, fat-free yogurt, light cream cheese and low-fat or nonfat milk in place of high-fat ingredients. Non-fat plain yogurt can take the place of sour cream. If a recipe calls for heavy cream or evaporated milk, choose fat-free evaporated milk. Make your own salad dressings instead of using bottled dressings. Replace some of the whole eggs used in recipes for egg whites (one egg equals two egg whites).

More: Healthy Cooking: 7 Baking Substitutions

Make dessert less decadent. Try chocolate-dipped strawberries instead of other high-fat, high-sugar dessert options. Make pumpkin pie with nonfat evaporated milk and use a fat-free whipped topping. When baking, substitute at least half the white flour for whole-wheat flour to add more fiber. Substitute nonfat yogurt or applesauce for oil in baked goods.

More: Active Cookbook: 8 Butter-Free Desserts

Mindful eating and moderation can help prevent holiday weight gain. Having a healthful eating and exercise plan for the holidays will ensure success throughout the season and all year long. Don't abandon the good habits you've formed just because the holiday season is here. Focus on enjoying the company during your holiday meals and don't make it all about the food.

More: 9 Tenets of Clean Eating and How to Adjust to This Lifestyle

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About the Author

Michelle Ulrich

Michelle Ulrich, MS, RD works as a clinical dietitian at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. She's also the sports dietitian for ETA Coach, an endurance coaching company. She has a passion for food, nutrition and sports.
Michelle Ulrich, MS, RD works as a clinical dietitian at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. She's also the sports dietitian for ETA Coach, an endurance coaching company. She has a passion for food, nutrition and sports.

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