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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

A few tricks keep extra holiday pounds away

Photo of couple walking after Thanksgiving meal
Holiday visits with family and friends can include outside activities, such as a bike ride or brisk walk together. 

The holidays are coming, and the gifts no one wants to get stuck with are those extra pounds. With all the family get-togethers, office parties and holiday treats, it is not unusual for people to end up with an extra 5 to 10 pounds by the time the new year rolls around.

Maryam Nabavi, a registered dietitian who rotates through several UC Davis Medical Group clinics each week to consult with patients, offers the following tips to help everyone avoid putting on weight and make healthier choices during the holidays:

  • Eat breakfast and regular meals daily. Many people figure it's smart to skip breakfast to “save up” for that big afternoon meal. But experts say that's the wrong approach. Few meals can be as nutritionally sound and low in calories as breakfast. Try a small bagel and orange juice (or an orange), or perhaps a low sugar, high-fiber cereal with chopped fruit and milk. Yogurt with fruit and wheat germ also offers an abundance of vitamins and fiber, along with being low in fat and calories. Such foods are also a good way to fill up early so as not to be tempted by sweets a few hours later.

  • Keep healthy food handy. It's 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Around the office, people are tired and hungry. Coffee is ready, and there is a plate of holiday fudge on the counter. Who can resist? People don't have to deprive themselves of every treat over the holidays. A limit of one or two treats a day can be done with a little planning. Prepare for those inevitable low periods when there's a need to snack. Try a slice of whole grain toast or fill up first on a plain bagel and some low sodium V-8 juice. Keeping a bag of cut-up fruits and vegetables handy helps ensure that one treat during the day won't turn into two or three less-than-healthy items.

  • Cook lighter. Modify traditional foods to be lower in calories and fat. Opt for turkey instead of ham or roast beef. Avoid injected or “self-basting” birds, and instead baste with mixtures of fruit juice, broth, wine, soy sauce and herbs. Cook the stuffing in a separate dish because not only will it be lower in fat, but also there is less of a risk of food poisoning from undercooked meat juices.

  • Consider serving baked potatoes, yams and steamed vegetables plain rather than as part of a rich casserole or covered with cream sauce. Add salsa or spices to flavor vegetables. Look for lower fat and lower calorie versions of favorite recipes, which are designed to omit most of the butter and cream. Substitute evaporated skim milk or low-fat yogurt for cream and sour cream. With baked goods, cut cholesterol by using two egg whites instead of one whole egg, or three egg whites instead of two whole eggs.

  • For every holiday meal, serve (or bring to a party) an array of beautifully displayed, healthy foods along with traditional holiday fare. Make a large salad with a colorful assortment of chopped fruits or vegetables. Hors d'oeuvres can include vegetable strips with a low-fat dip, baguette rounds with light spreads that are decorated with boiled shrimp, a bit of salmon or a sprig of mint. Make vegetable roll-ups using a thin pastry such as rice paper and stuff them with low fat cottage cheese, tofu and fresh vegetables. Flavor these fun finger foods with bits of string cheese and herbs.

  • Eat wisely. People shouldn't feel that they have to deprive themselves at holiday parties, but they can choose carefully. Skip the eggnog and choose fewer alcoholic drinks, which tend to be high in calories. Sip on flavored coffees, teas, diet soda. Heap plates with fruits and vegetables and take only small amounts of meat, cheese and other rich foods. White meat without the skin is a lower-fat choice than dark meat. Limit gravies and cream sauces to “just a taste.” At dessert time, limit choices to only one or two items. Pumpkin and apple pie may be considered more nutritious and lower-calorie alternatives to pecan pie. Try just a sliver for taste. Portion control is the key to enjoying holiday foods without feeling deprived of the rich traditions.

  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. Plenty of exercise is the best way to feel better during the holiday season. Try to schedule in 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise sometime during the day before a holiday meal or before the office party. Holiday visits with family and friends can include outside activities, such as a bike ride or brisk walk together. Get the kids involved in exercise and recreation while they on a break from school, too. Healthy holiday habits should start at a young age.

Don't wait to make “losing extra holiday pounds” a New Year's resolution! Maintaining your weight during the holiday season, rather than gaining pounds, is a great step in starting a healthy lifestyle for the New Year. With a little planning and a few healthy tips in mind, a person can start right away and feel even better as they go into 2007.