Season's Eatings

Want to maintain, not gain extra pounds this holiday? Here's how to enjoy delicious seasonal goodies without guilt.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 01, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Cheesecake. Eggnog. Fudge.

If the devil has a list of the most sinfully delicious foods, these surely rank high. You know firsthand the temptations of holiday treats, laden with fat and calories. You want to be good. You try not to overeat. But you survey the lavish displays on those very long tables-the savory cheeses, the pretty canapés, the tartlets, the creamy dips, the foie gras.

Or maybe you sit down to Aunt Bev's oyster dressing, her special mashed potatoes, her renowned pies-and you can't help but think, "Oh, what the heck!"

To some extent, you're right. It's the holidays, so why be a saint? "The holidays are no time to try to lose weight," says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD, WebMD's director of nutrition. "You want to maintain, not gain. I call it 'social weight maintenance,' the idea that you can splurge a little and enjoy, without gaining weight."

Enjoying some of the seasonal foods is a gift you give yourself, Zelman says. "Small bites are simply not a problem. This way, you can have your cake and eat it, too-but eat just a little." In other words, don't set yourself up for failure. The temptations are just too overwhelming- you have to let yourself enjoy it. But you still have to show some restraint."

Zelman says her own game plan is to "make sure I'm at fighting weight when Thanksgiving comes around. If you don't have pounds to lose, if you get yourself to a good place, you won't gain any."

Or not much, anyway. Here are a few more tips to help you face the buffet feasts with ease:

Eat before a party. Before hitting a holiday celebration, have a bowl of soup, a salad, popcorn --something filling but without many calories. It takes the edge off your appetite, which allows you to be more discriminating.

Graze carefully. Enjoy a few bites of the richer foods, but in general fill up on raw vegetables, fruits, smoked salmon, and shrimp. Don't overdo it on creamy, fatty, or fried foods.

Love it or leave it. "If you don't love it, don't eat it," says Zelman. "If one bite is not knocking your socks off, put it down."

Think small. You don't need that entire wedge of marble cheesecake. Learn to savor small tastes of these wonderful treats. What you don't eat won't hurt you.

Sense satisfaction. Push away from the table before you're bursting at the seams. Move away from the buffet line. "If you stand there, you will eat," Zelman says. "It's unconscious eating. It's not about hunger. You won't even remember what you've eaten."

Make potlucks less tempting. Bring something that you can eat in large portions- chilled shrimp, smoked salmon, fresh fruit and low-fat dip, or wild rice. If you bring dessert, make it pumpkin pie instead of pecan.

Lighten the drinks. Alcohol is laden with calories; creamy drinks are, too. Treat friends to a pitcher of sangria or lower-fat eggnog. Use low-fat milk instead of cream in White Russians.

Go 80-20. For the holidays or anytime, Zelman's health philosophy is "the 80-20 approach." She explains: "Eighty percent of the time, you follow your healthy lifestyle, exercising and eating properly. But 20% of the time, most often the weekends and holidays, you can lighten up, not be so tough on yourself. As long as you have an 80-20 balance, you won't gain weight-and you will have more fun."

This way, you have no need to fear the party buffets. Enjoy holiday goodies, continue to get some exercise, and you should sail through the season and into the New Year without feeling deprived - and without extra weight.

Smart Choices at the Buffet Table

Instead of...Choose...
Pigs in blanketMelon wrapped in prosciutto
Stuffing with brown gravyBrown or wild rice
Salami and cheeseCrudités, fresh fruit, and dip
Fried wingsShrimp cocktail or smoked salmon
Green bean casseroleSteamed veggies with citrus zest
Prime ribTurkey breast
CheesecakePumpkin pie with low-calorie topping
FudgeChocolate-dipped strawberries
Hot chocolate with whipped creamSkinny latté with dusting of cocoa