Healthy Holiday Eating Tips From the Pros

As parties push eggnog and Christmas cookies, Nutrisystem nutrition experts field hundreds of calls from dieters determined to stay on track. Here’s how they coach clients to make healthy holiday eating choices.

By Lauren Gelman
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    You think you’re busier than usual during the holidays? Consider how slammed Nutrisystem’s weight-loss support call center is—call volume increased 1,100 percent during last year’s holiday season. We asked Meghan Nichols, RD, a dietitian and manager of research and development, about the most common questions their experts get, so you can benefit from their advice, too.

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    What’s the best alcohol choice to drink?

    Nicholls recommends liquor-based drinks with low-cal mixers. Rum and diet soda, vodka and Sprite Zero, or tequila and club soda all run around 100 calories. Wine is a good option too—lighter glasses have around 100 to 120 calories—but Nichols cautions that it’s easy to overdo the portion. “The real diet danger with drinking isn’t just the calories in your glass,” adds Nichols. “Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, which can cause you to make poor food choices. Plus, it can interfere with how your body metabolizes other foods, making you more likely to store fat.” To avoid post-party regret, stick to one drink. Sip, savor; and then switch to water.

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    When I’m going to a party, what should I eat the rest of the day?

    Here’s what you shouldn’t eat: nothing. “If you walk in to a party famished, it’s setting you up for disaster,” says Nichols. “Maybe eat slightly fewer calories than usual, and focus on veggies and lean protein.” For breakfast, she recommends an egg-white omelet with veggies and cheese ,and a slice of whole-grain toast. For lunch, have a salad piled with non-starchy veggies (think broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes) and a protein like turkey, tuna, or chicken. Then nosh on a nutritious snack about 30 to 60 minutes before your party—a combo of fiber and protein, like fruit and string cheese.

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    What should I eat at a holiday dinner?

    If there’s one simple rule to follow, it’s this: Fill half your plate with veggies, provided they’re not smothered in butter or cheese. This will help you fill up and avoid eating more higher-calorie carb or protein options. For the rest of your dish, split it between whole grains and lean protein. If there’s an indulgent-looking recipe you have to try, take a tablespoon or small scoop. “People overestimate how much they need to eat to feel satisfied,” says Nichols.

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    I just want to maintain my weight over the holidays.

    First, bravo for being realistic. This outlook may actually keep your weight loss on track in the long run—as opposed to focusing on shedding pounds, being disappointed, and then falling off your plan. If you can, find ways to lighten up family recipes and sneak in more activity (mall walking, even) to offset additional calories you might be eating. Another trick: Weigh yourself at least once a week, so you can note any small gains early on. If you’re mindful about what you eat, being healthy during the holidays may not be as hard as you fear; Nutrisystem members usually lose half a pound a week on average instead of their usual one to two.

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    What are some easy snack and meal ideas on the go?

    A little planning goes a long way, says Nichols. So don’t run holiday errands on an empty stomach; at the very least have a light breakfast, like a yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, and a piece of fruit. Stash nuts in your purse for an energy-boosting snack while you shop. At the grocery store, buy bagged salads, pre-cut veggies, and cans of soup so you can pull together a nutritious weeknight meal without a lot of effort. If you can, cook a larger casserole over the weekend and freeze extra for a simple dinner.

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    The scale went up, but I thought I was being good. What happened?

    “Don’t get too down on yourself,” says Nichols. “If you’re trying to be conscious, then you’re definitely better off than if you hadn’t tried at all.” She advises leaving it in the past and not letting your disappointment derail your future efforts. Some people find troubleshooting the problem helpful. Overdid it at your work party? Evaluate where you went wrong and plan what you could do differently next time. For example, if it was the snacks that did you in, vow that you’ll only eat a couple next time.

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    How do I say “no” to friends and family who offer unhealthy food?

    People feel so guilty saying no out of fear of offending someone, Nichols acknowledges. But chances are you’re overestimating how much your response bothers them. Don’t worry about making excuses—just start with a simple, “No thanks” or “That looks great; I’ll try some later.” If you want to ensure you have something healthy to eat, ask the host in advance if you can contribute to the festivities.

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    How do I handle people I haven’t seen in awhile commenting on my weight loss?

    “We are all so bad at taking compliments!” says Nichols. Genuine flattery can feel uncomfortable for some. If you think the praise is sincere, simply say “thank you” and smile. Let the compliment continue to motivate you toward your long-term goals. Don’t weaken it by answering, “Thanks, but I still have 20 pounds to go” or “Thanks, but it’s taken me a really long time.” Sometimes, however, a compliment can really be a dig, like “Oh, you’re getting too skinny,” or “Don’t offer her dessert—she doesn’t eat anymore.” In these cases, shrug it off and change the subject.

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