Ok, so the holiday season is right around the corner, and we’re probably going to be headed for some fun, food-filled parties. While it’s hard to avoid the holiday foods we love, we know that many of the foods we’ll be eating are high in fat, sugar, and calories-all the stuff that can quickly add weight to our waistlines!

Since it’s not realistic to avoid our favorite foods during the holidays, it’s also not realistic to expect to continue losing weight if we’re on a diet. But we don’t want to wind up gaining the typical 5-10 pounds either. Well, the good news is that we don’t have to.

Eating within your food budget during the holidays is simple–it just involves making a few smart changes. To start, let’s compare the nutritional value of a high-calorie holiday meal with a low-calorie holiday meal:

Nutritional Comparison of a High Calorie Meal vs. a Low Calorie Meal*
(‘Values are from the DietWatch.com Nutrition Calculator)

High Calorie Holiday Meal

3 mini egg rolls:630 cals; 12 g fat
4 oz. Caesar salad:200 cals; 12 g fat
4 oz. roasted duck:382 cals; 32 g fat
1 c. bread stuffing: 390 cals; 17g fat
½ c. broccoli w cream
sauce:93 cals; 6g fat
1 biscuit:276 cals; 13g fat
½ c. cranberry sauce:208 cals
1 slice pecan pie:503 cals; 27g fat
4 oz. egg nog:179 cals; 8g fat

Total: 2,861 cals; 127g fat

Low Calorie Holiday Meal

½ c. baby carrots w. 2T bean dip: 65 cals
Green salad w. 1T balsamic vinegar: 35 cals
4 oz. fresh lean ham: 155 cals; 6g fat
½ baked potato w. 1 oz. Cheese: 215 cals; 8g fat
½ c. broccoli w. 1 T. lemon juice 26 cals
1 roll: 75 cals; 2g fat
½ c. fruit salad: 60 cals
1 slice pumpkin pie: 229 cals; 10g fat
4 oz. red wine: 85 cals

Total: 945 cals; 26g fat

As you can see, you can still enjoy a tasty meal without overloading on calories and fat, by substituting high-calorie and high-fat items with lower-calorie and lower-fat alternatives. The key is to always think about how a food can be prepared in a healthier way.

So what should you remember during the holiday season? “Maintain, don’t gain.” That’s probably the most important goal for the holidays. Take a look at some additional strategies below, which will help you achieve that goal:

  • Don’t Go Without Food Before a Party or Dinner
    While knowing that you’ll be headed for a tempting meal in the evening may cause you to cut out breakfast and lunch entirely, this can lead to over-hunger and over-eating when the meal finally arrives. Instead of skipping breakfast and lunch altogether, plan mini-meals, such as some fiber-rich cereal for breakfast, and some fruit and cottage cheese for lunch. This will help you control your calories later on, and keep you within your “food budget.”
  • Keep Food Records
    Whether you’re writing or typing, keeping track of the food that you eat on a daily basis will help you to eat less! A recent study showed that those who kept food records during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s lost an average of 7 pounds, while those who weren’t as diligent with keeping records ended up gaining 3 pounds.
  • Don’t Love It? Don’t Eat It.
    At any given party, we have so many foods to choose from, yet so little calories to waste. But it’s important to remember to ask yourself what you really want. If there are times when you feel like you can “pass” on a dish, go ahead and do so. You’ll savor the foods you do enjoy, without the extra guilt.
  • Plan to Exercise
    Exercise can decrease your appetite, increase your metabolism, and reduce holiday stress. Make it a point to do some exercise each day of the holiday season-whether it”s jogging on the treadmill, or taking a walk with your friends and family after the meal. It will help you to feel better physically and mentally, not to mention give you some extra coverage for an irresistible dessert!
  • Fill Up on Vegetables During Cocktail Hour
    Probably the best way to keep your calories in check during the holidays is to focus on vegetables. Vegetables are very low in calories, and offer a variety of nutritional benefits. And consuming vegetables during cocktail hour has an added bonus-the high fiber content of vegetables will quickly give you a feeling of “fullness,” and will help you to consume fewer calories at the meal.
  • Concentrate on the Company
    Chances are, it/s been a while since you/ve seen some of your friends and family, and you/ll probably have a lot of catching up to do. Focusing on conversation during a holiday gathering will make your party “people-centered” instead of “food centered,” and will help you avoid excess calories. (Hint: Position yourself away from the food during the cocktail hour and after the meal is over).
  • Obey the 20-Minute Rule
    Did you know it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full? Well, knowing this rule can help you avoid consuming extra calories at the meal. It’s simple: when you feel like taking seconds, simply wait about 20 minutes, and then see if you’re still hungry. If you?re still craving something after the time is up, feel free to grab seconds from some of the lower-calorie dishes.
  • Rehearse the Words “No Thank You”
    So you’re Aunt has made the pecan pie “just for you!” Or your friend, whose host, feels like she hasn’t satisfied your palate unless you’re taking seconds and thirds. Though you may feel compelled to give in, remember that these well-intended gestures can sabotage your best efforts towards achieving your goals! Try rehearsing the words “no-thank you,” in a polite tone before the dinner. (Remember, it’s possible to be firm and polite).
  • Drink a Glass of Water After Each Alcoholic Beverage
    Egg nog, spirits, and other mixed holiday cocktails contain lots of calories-and can quickly add on the pounds. These beverages can further contribute extra calories by increasing appetite, and decreasing control over food choices. Try alternating alcoholic beverages with water. This will keep you hydrated, and prevent you from consuming excess calories-from beverages and food!
  • Leave the Leftovers
    When a big meal is over, it”s not uncommon for there to be lots of uneaten food, waiting to get wrapped up and distributed among different guests. It may seem tempting to want to “re-live” the delicious sweet-potato pie, or stuffing. But remember to save the party foods for the party. That way you won’t “re-live” some of the excess calories either.

By Lisa Drayer, MA, RD