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Can you have your krumkake and eat it too?

Holiday treats are often high in sugar, fat and calories, but a few tips can help party-goers avoid overeating and weight gain during the season.
Holiday treats are often high in sugar, fat and calories, but a few tips can help party-goers avoid overeating and weight gain during the season.
Photo by Madeline Studelska '14.

The holidays are an important time to gather with family and friends, and of course, these gatherings are often filled with those family-favorite foods.

Unfortunately, many of those holiday treats are high in sugar, fat, and calories. On average, Americans gain approximately one to two pounds during the holidays.  To compound the problem, this extra weight tends to stay on and we keep adding to it each year. 

A few sensible tips will help reduce sugar, fat and calorie intake, avoid holiday weight gain, and still enjoy those family treats.

1.     Have a plan

Think about when, where and what you will be eating at holiday gatherings.  Think about your favorite foods and those you could probably do without.  Think about your personal triggers to overeat, and how you might decrease those.  Be mindful about your eating. Make an eating plan and try to stick to it. Often, we have more success with healthy eating if we have a plan ahead of time.

 2.     Eat a healthy breakfast

Many studies have shown that those who eat breakfast tend to consume fewer calories and sugary foods throughout the day.  Eating breakfast also boosts our metabolism and helps us burn more calories. Include whole grains such as steel cut oats, whole grain bread, fruits and vegetables which are rich in fiber, lower in calories and tend to fill us up. Add peanut butter and a glass of skim milk for protein and healthy fat, which both promote satiety.

3.     Arrive satisfied

We tend to eat faster and more when we are hungry, so eat healthy meals, or a light snack before a holiday gathering. Snack foods such as a string cheese, a small container of low-fat yogurt, a handful of unsalted nuts such as almonds or walnuts, or a piece of fruit are all healthy snacks that fill us up. If we don’t arrive at the gathering overly hungry, chances are we won’t overeat high calorie foods.

 4.     Watch portion sizes

Using a smaller plate helps us eat less food and helps encourages proper portion sizes.  Fill your plate with raw vegetables, shrimp cocktail and lettuce salads before getting entrees and desserts. Research shows eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall.

 5.     Eat slowly

Most of us inhale our food! Eat slowly and savor every bite. Drink water between bites. Wait at least ten minutes before going back for seconds. Keep in mind that from the time we start eating, it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to signal our head that we are full.  Eating slowly will almost always result in eating fewer calories.

 6.     Get regular physical activity

It's easy to get off track with regular exercise during the holidays with all the extra activities and celebrations.  Being active helps improve the connection between body, mind and spirit, reduce stress and burn off extra calories. Find an exercise that you enjoy and stick with it. Exercise can provide a much deserved break from the hustle and bustle of the season.

Holidays are a time to celebrate as we gather with family and friends. With just a little planning, you can reduce sugary, high calorie foods, and keep off the extra holiday pounds while still enjoying the pleasures the season has to offer.

Assistant Professor Debra Barone Sheats, MPH, RD, LD, is director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the Department of Family, Consumer and Nutritional Sciences at St. Catherine University.

Nov. 30, 2011 by Debra Barone Sheats

See also: Faculty, Healthcare