Eating Well | Avoid the Jingle Bellies and Sugar Plumps

Written by by Laurie Syring, RD/LD. Posted in December

The holiday season is upon us—though for some people, that season keeps getting larger and larger along with their waistlines. Nowadays it seems “the holidays” begin with the opening of that first bag of Halloween Candy and continue right on through the Super Bowl with all its associated snacking. With nearly a third of the year now lumped under the “holiday” heading, it’s no wonder we’re packing on the pounds!


How much weight are we really gaining during this festive season? New studies suggest Americans gain less than two pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? After all, I can gain that much in a day! But look at it like this: If you don’t take off those two “paltry” pounds after the holidays and you keep on adding two pounds a year for 20 years, you’re up 40 pounds from your high school “fighting weight.”

The issue isn’t so much that we overindulge on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. We can (excuse the pun) bounce back from that easily enough. The problem is, when we take in an extra 500 calories a day, every day, for four to six weeks, the pounds can really start to add up. I’m talking four to eight pounds over the holiday season!

The good news is, you don’t have to miss out on all your favorite holiday foods. You can still enjoy your “seasons eatings”—but perhaps with a little moderation, portion control, and mindfulness this time around. Here’s how:

Plan, plan, plan!

I can’t emphasize this enough. Take a look at your monthly calendar and write down all the parties, gatherings, and lunch and dinner invites. Think about any eating challenges/opportunities you might encounter at each one, and consider how to enjoy the event as you stick to your healthy eating plan.

Also, try to prioritize your parties. Ask yourself what is going to be fun about this event and what issues you need to watch out for. For example, if you know you won’t be able to resist grandma’s famous potato latkes, plan and budget your calories for this special item.

Watch the booze

Libations can be loaded with a lot more calories than you realize. That rum-spiked eggnog alone can contain over 500 calories! Consider substituting club soda with a twist instead.

Be choosy

“A little bit of everything” is not a good healthy eating strategy—especially during the holidays when there’s a whole lot of “everything” to choose from. Before you dig in, decide what you must have and what you can live without. Perhaps a warm, fresh-baked gingerbread cookie is a must, but you can probably do without those tasteless store-bought cookies.

Holiday party buffet lines are especially perilous. Before you dig in, peruse the whole line and decide which items are really worth splurging on. Don’t waste your calories on items that you can eat at any time of year or just aren’t all that tempting to you.

Eat before you go

If you’re hungry before you head for that holiday gathering, eat a healthy snack at home so that you don’t overeat at the party. Have a piece of fruit, a yogurt, and a protein granola bar.

Don’t rely on bonus time at the gym

Spending extra time at the gym is good for stress relief and maintaining your exercise routine, but the calories burned won’t necessarily counteract all those extra holiday calories. The number of calories burned during a workout is relatively small compared to the damage you can do at a party. For example, the 300 calories you burned on the elliptical will only wipe out a couple of small cookies. So sad, I know.

Planning for your holiday parties can make it easier for you to stick with your healthy eating goals and give you an edge when it comes to handling surprise calories that come your way. Your perspective plays an important part, as well. Do you look at the holidays as a strictly food-centric season or an opportunity to spend more time with the people you love? Why not shift the focus from food to family and friends?

Above all, keep in mind that you can still enjoy the treats of the season—as long as you’re mindful of your choices.❦

Mercy Health Check another to do off your list