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Healthy Holidays

Can you believe holiday season is upon us already?  Are you ready for all of the holiday feasting?  Making it through the holidays without gaining weight is not about willpower; it’s about having a plan!  Keep in mind that a few holiday meals will not destroy your health or your weight; rather it is your overall eating pattern that is important for maintaining your general health, preventing disease, and achieving a healthy weight.

My philosophy is that if you eat healthfully 80% of the time, then there is absolutely room in your diet to eat holiday foods, too.  That works out to about three or four “special celebration” meals per week.  The other 17 or 18 meals should be well-planned, balanced, and healthful.  It can be close to impossible to lose weight during the holidays, but preventing weight gain is certainly an obtainable goal.  Set yourself up for success by aiming to keep your weight stable this month instead of planning to lose weight.  Don’t try to be virtuous.  I think it’s important to enjoy your food and the special holiday treats that are part of this season.  If you give yourself permission to eat the foods you love and maintain structure with all of your meals, you will be successful.  Here’s how that looks:

·      Make structured meals and snacks a priority.  Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, even if your previous meal was huge.  Eat at regular meal times and have snacks in between meals if you are hungry.  Skipping meals is not a way to compensate for eating too much and actually sets you up for overeating again.  Tune into your internal cues of hunger and satiety and eat the amount you are hungry for.  Breakfast is especially important because it influences your appetite and the healthfulness of your food choices for the rest of the day.

·      Next, make ceremony and pleasure part of your meals. Sit down, slow down, use dishes and silverware, take smaller bites, chew thoroughly, and savor your food.  The faster you eat the less attention you pay to your food and the more calories you consume.

·      Finally, try to have family meals where you eat with at least one other person—relative or friend.  Family meals and structured eating go hand-in-hand.  Both are associated with more nutritious diets and the likelihood of being at a healthy weight.

You can manage your weight by being prepared to take care of yourself and by being thoughtful about having really satisfying meals.  Planning all of your meals can help prevent you from skipping meals, eating haphazardly, or arriving at a party starving.  Having a plan, rather than relying on willpower will set you up to be successful with your eating this season.  I have some menu suggestions you can use as inspiration for your regular, nonspecial occasion meals and visit our shownotes page on to try the delicious recipes I’m going to discuss to see how satisfying it is to eat fresh, balanced, and regular meals.

Start your day right with breakfast!  Don’t even think about skipping this meal unless you are going to a brunch party.  To feel your best all day long, try to eat a balanced breakfast within an hour of waking up A balanced breakfast contains plenty of protein and fat and minimally processed carbohydrates.

Good options are scrambled eggs sautéed with vegetables like kale, mushrooms, and onions in olive oil and a slice of Ezekiel toast

Or for a nice dairy-free breakfast try oatmeal cooked with almond butter, chia seeds, and frozen cherries.

For midmorning snack, have something as easy and balanced as a handful or raw nuts.  You just need a little protein, fat and fiber to get you through until lunch.  My morning snack is a cup of coffee with steamed whole milk for some protein and fat.

Lunch should be a vegetable heavy meal with some protein and fat, as well.  Vegetables are nutritious and filling.  Try to make at least half of your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.

I always prefer to have a vegetation lunch with lots of beans.  Salad bar with beans as my protein is my favorite feel-good lunch.  As it gets colder, a nice vegetarian chili or lentil soup with lots of vegetables would be a wonderfully satisfying option, too.  If you feel better when you eat more protein, then a tuna salad on a bed of greens with veggies and beans mixed in, would be a great choice.

A nice afternoon snack would be hummus for protein and fat (try to get yours made with olive oil) and some carrots and other crudités. Or you could do nuts and a piece of fruit again.

At dinner, I like to do lots of vegetables—at least two, but usually three—and some heavier protein, like fish or chicken, and maybe red meat once a week.  To get a good variety of veggies, you can mix it up with a salad, some roasted vegetables, and a vegetable that is cooked with your protein.  For instance a chicken stir fry with lots of veggies, some steamed sugar snap peas, and a side salad.  Or do a large salad and a protein, like fish on the side.  For example My Dried Fig, Goat cheese and arugula Salad and Wild salmon with orange olive tapenade are a nice combination.

I like to end my dinner with fruit for dessert on most nights.

Try to eat dessert as part of a full meal so the protein from the meal can slow the release of sugar into your system.  Aim to eat fresh fruit most days and more indulgent sweets 2-3 times a week.  

I believe that it’s important to fully enjoy the holidays by participating in the eating rituals and partaking of the special foods.  Healthful eating is really about the overall quality of your diet and having a healthy relationship with food.  In other words, eat foods that are lovingly made with the best possible ingredients and feel good about the foods you choose to eat so that you enjoy every bite of your holiday meals. Incorporate the strategies and menus that I discussed today.  With these tools, you can successfully savor and appreciate everything you eat without feeling out of control this holiday season.  Healthy holidays everyone!


Q: Any tips for handling holiday buffets?

A: Buffets can be challenging because they really encourage overeating.  It’s a proven fact that just the sheer variety of foods to choose from can lead to overeating because you want to try so many foods and you end up filling your plate with more foods than you normally would.  This is where the mindfulness and awareness practices I discussed can really be helpful.  Remember, you want to enjoy your holiday meals without feeling bad or guilty afterwards, but that doesn’t mean tearing into a buffet with reckless abandon.  Just take your time and make some informed decisions.  I recommend surveying the spread first, and maybe even asking people who went before you what was good.  Taste everything you want to taste, but really try to be critical about what you like.  In other words, if the stuffing is just so-so, don’t keep eating it.  Not all cookies that look delicious actually taste delicious.  Try to pay attention to how things taste and only eat what you are enjoying.  No matter how you end up handling your feast, resolve to not have any guilt or shame about what or how much you ate.  I want you to be able to look back on the meal and recall how much you enjoyed it.

Recipes Mentioned

Sauteed Kale With Wild Mushrooms
Cherry Almond Vanilla Oatmeal
Super Antioxidant Chili
Lentil Soup
Mediterranean Tuna Salad
Dried Fig, Goat Cheese and Arugula Salad
Wild Salmon With Orange-Olive Tapenade
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with White Beans
Roasted Yams and Shallots
Asparagus and Chicken Stir-Fry 


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Gelson's Registered Dietitian, Jessica Siegel, has a Masters in Public Health. However, she is not a doctor and her nutritional recommendations are not tailored to specific health problems. Always consult your physician before beginning any nutritional program.

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