While the myth that people gain seven to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been debunked, a recent study suggests that they do gain about a pound per holiday season – and that can add up to carrying an extra 20 pounds into middle age.
The holidays are a wonderful time to break bread with loved ones, but for those who are trying to eat healthier, it can be minefield of fat-laden gravy, calorie-packed cheese balls, and sublime sugary desserts. That can lead people to think all hope is lost for maintaining a healthy diet this time of year.
However, this is the season of hope! Dietitians with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health's Nourish Program offer some advice along with a few recipes to help you kick-start the upcoming holiday season.
Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, certified diabetes educator, says it's all about balance.
"I think focusing on what your plate looks like is key, and really making sure you're getting fiber from produce and whole grains. Fitting a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables into the meals you like to eat is a great place to start," she said.
Most of us love to grab a slice, or two, of pumpkin pie after dinner. However, if you're watching your weight, you may feel like just looking at the dessert selection is a bad idea. But if dessert's your favorite part of the holiday meal, you don't have to shy away from the treats – just watch the portion sizes.
It is really easy to overeat sweet treats, so just be mindful of how much you consume and take your time to really enjoy it. There are also many recipes that include a healthy twist. For example, the Nourish Chocolate Pecan Marshmallow Dip includes black beans and garbanzo beans, so this sweet chocolate treat now includes the benefits of fiber.
Shannon Weston, MPH, RD, certified diabetes educator
Wesley McWhorter, MS, RD, who is a professionally trained chef, says planning before you get to a party or family gathering is important.
You can enjoy your favorite items while also leaving room for some roasted vegetables on your plate. You don't have to eat everything – go for what you love.
Wesley McWhorter, MS, RD, a professionally trained chef
Another tip for an easier, healthier holiday spread is just keeping it simple.
"I always suggest adding roasted, in-season vegetables to your holiday menu because it's a simple addition that doesn't take a lot of effort – think roasted Brussels sprouts," McWhorter said.
If you're hosting the big day this year, you can still serve old favorites like Grandma's green bean casserole – but swapping out the condensed soup for a homemade mushroom sauce is an easy and flavorful way to make this traditional dish a little lighter and impress all of your guests.
Another timesaver is fresh cranberry sauce. "You're getting a serving of fresh fruit and you don't have to cook it, so that's a win-win," McWhorter said.
Keep in mind your plate is not the only thing to watch; what you fill your cup up with is important too.
"Alcoholic drinks can add unwanted calories. To lighten up your drinks, add seltzer to wine or low- or no-calorie tonic to your cocktail," said Laura Moore, MEd, RD, director of the Nourish Program. "Mocktails are fun to offer too, so be creative with fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, and mint, and add fresh berries like raspberries and citrus."
Last but certainly not least, one final piece of advice from the dietitians of UTHealth: don't forget to enjoy the holiday and the time with your family – one or two days of feasting is not going to ruin the whole year. However, a little planning will help you avoid the shame and guilt of overindulging at holiday meals.
Yanovski, J. A. et al. (2019) A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain. The New England Jornal of Medicine. doi.org/10.1056/NEJM200003233421206