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Oh the diet horror - a feast in your face, family members filling plates with sweet and savory sides, gravy galore, dessert-lined buffets, oversized platters and buttery mashed anything - all in the name of the holidays. 

Families and friends gather to enjoy comfort foods, traditional cuisine and an impromptu, full-bellied nap on the couch.  It is also a time that can stir the stress of those trying to eat right and maintain their good health through the holiday season. 

Here are 10 strategies to help you eat right this holiday season. 

1.  Savor the Moment.  Pause for 10 to15 minutes and have a glass of water.  Not only does slow eating allow for a greater sense of satisfaction, but a new study finds that slow eating impacts appetite control and may decrease your chances of overeating. It is important to listen to cues coming from your body and eat until you are almost full, not entirely full. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. Slow down and enjoy every bite.

2.  Stay Well! Focus on eating well for immune boosting properties. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and spices for phytonutrients and antioxidants. 

3.  Be active!  Take a walk after the meal, enjoy some time outdoors and stick to your exercise routine.  Some of the best time spent with the family could be the time spent walking around the neighborhood.

4.  Make Simple Substitutions.  Consider making simple substitutions with your recipes.  Here are some examples: 

  • Use evaporated skim milk in mashed potatoes, along with a soft spread instead of butter. 
  • Use low- fat items for healthy holiday appetizers. Blend fat-free cottage cheese, fresh herbs until smooth and creamy for a vegetable or cracker dip.
  • Substitute nonfat plain yogurt for some of the sour cream, mayo and salad dressing in recipes. It adds great flavor and calcium.
  • Dip veggies in yogurt with garlic and dill, and fruit in lowfat vanilla yogurt.  
  • Make stuffing without butter or oil. Use extra celery, onion and chicken or vegetable stock instead of water then add extra sage and pepper.
  • Stick to noncalorie and sugar-free beverages.

5.  Skip some things.  Skip the creamy dips, casseroles and gravy. Not only will the fat and calories from dips add up, but they will also fill you up. Casseroles often disguise the healthiest foods, such as sweet potatoes, green beans and spinach. Reach for plain vegetables and sweet potatoes and leave the casseroles alone. Gravy is made from the greasy turkey drippings and offers extra calories with no nutritional value.

6.  Make your plate colorful. Choose bright foods, such as sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, squash and broccoli. Notice that the bland-colored foods are often those with little nutrients and lots of fat - stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroles and gravy.

7.  It's not an eating contest.  Don't feel obliged to go for seconds or to stuff yourself with dessert. Holidays are not an eating contest. Just have fun and enjoy the food and family. Don't eat until you are uncomfortable. East 1 to 2 tablespoons of each of your favorite holiday dishes. All that food will fill your plate and fill you.

For your dinner plate, follow the one plate rule. Have only one plate of food  and opt for 1/4 veggies, 1/2 foods rich in lean protein, such as chicken , fish, sirloin, filet mignon or flank steak, 1/4 starch, such as pasta, rice or potatoes. Leave no more than 1/4 plate for dessert fruit and or a decadent treat such as a small brownie, a few small cookies or a small piece of pie or cake. 

8.  Make it worth it!  Only eat the treats! Holidays are a fun time to enjoy holiday-specific foods, such as pumpkin pie and stuffing, so avoid foods that you can have any time of year, such as bread with butter, cheese and crackers, high calorie cocktails and box-mix brownies or cookies. This is a great way to avoid unnecessary calories and leave room for those holiday treats you get to enjoy once or twice a year. If you don't love it, don't eat it!
9.  Eat turkey!  Eating a sizable amount of skinless turkey because it is so lean and low in calories. Enjoy liberal amounts of cranberry sauce on the turkey and enjoy the sauce as a carbohydrate fix, rather than digging into the bread basket for dinner rolls or cornbread.

10.  Stay Attuned.  The most important goal for the holidays is to stay attuned to your intuitive signals of hunger, fullness and what really satisfies your palate. Remember, that this is not the last, or only time that you can eat these foods.  You can have them again whenever you're hungry.  In fact, if you honor your fullness at a big holiday meal, you might have room for a turkey sandwich and a little more pumpkin pie later in the evening!

Reference : American Dietetic Association, U.S. Dietary Guidelines

Submitted by: Kajuandra Harris-Huntley, Extension Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, (334) 727-0340 or



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