Your Diet and Holiday Danger Zones

Research suggests that most Americans never lose that pound they gain over the holidays — which easily adds up to a 10-pound gain every 10 years. Let us help you outwit this season's eatings. 

Last fall I was on a serious health kick. After months of gym-going and careful eating, jeans that I hadn't worn in years fit! Then Thanksgiving hit, and I was sucked into that diet minefield — the five-week stretch from Turkey Day to New Year's. The worst thing about the month of December isn't that you gain tons of weight — the average American puts on only about a pound. The real problem is that it's a black hole for your willpower. A slice of leftover pumpkin pie here, a few too many cocktails there, and your healthy intentions disappear. But it's not just you. No matter what comes your way — a super-stressful day of holiday shopping or Mom's sugar cookies — you'll know just what to do to stay slim.

Forget the Fruitcake

One healthy act begets another. So spread good tidings with these diet-friendly gifts.

A no-calorie after-dinner treat: Satisfy cravings for something sweet with Tea Forte Dolce Vita dessert teas in flavors like Coco Truffle and Belgian Mint.

Dolce Vita Dessert Teas, $12/6, available at teaforte.com

A built-in portion control system: Prevent overeating with Yum Yum Dishes, which read, "Yum yum time is over" on the inside.

Yum Yum Dishes, $22/4, available at yumyumdish.com

A delicious candle: Enjoy sinful smells that are calorie-free, such as the Joya Chocolate Brown Candle, scented with cocoa bean and fig.

Joya Chocolate Brown Candle, $8 to $25; available at joyacandle.com

A no-hassle garden: Encourage the five-a-day habit with Aerogarden, a countertop dirt-free greenhouse that gives lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, and more the right amount of H2O and light.

Aerogarden, $150, aerogrow.com

A long-lasting indulgence: Provide a creamy treat with See's Gourmet Lollypops in a variety of flavors — they have only 70-90 calories with as little as 2 grams of fat.

See's Gourmet Lollypops, from $6.40/12, available at sees.com

Holiday Party Planning

If you're a sucker for chips, dips, and appetizers, follow these tips to stay in control at holiday parties.

  • Guard against a buffet-table binge with a smart snack one hour before you go. "Then when you get to the party, you won't be so hungry that you dive into the buffet," says Keri Glassman, RD, author of The Snack Factor Diet (Crown Publishers). For serious staying power, combine fiber, protein, and fat: a mixed green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, 1 ounce feta cheese, and light dressing, or a cup of nonfat plain yogurt with 10 almonds.
  • At the party, look for these snacks, and only load up your plate once: shrimp cocktail, veggies with hummus (skip other creamy dips), olives, steamed vegetable dumplings, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and chicken skewers.
  • Offer to bring your own healthy dish to share, like caprese kebabs (skewer cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and kalamata olives on toothpicks and brush with balsamic vinegar).

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

Christmas Day is often all about eating. "But food doesn't have to be the center of attention," says Marisa Moore, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson in Atlanta. Create new, healthy traditions — and put the focus on family instead of food.

  • Serve a light breakfast of oatmeal and fruit salad. Your family will be so wrapped up in unwrapping gifts they won't miss the usual spread.
  • After presents, head outside to spread some cheer. Offer to shovel your elderly neighbors' snowy sidewalks and driveways.
  • In the afternoon set out healthy snacks, such as trail mix (combine granola, sunflower seeds, raw almonds, and a little chopped dark chocolate) and tangerines, instead of cookies and candy.
  • Don't open the champagne too early in the day — save the calories for a glass of wine with dinner.
  • Have some outdoor fun before the feast: Go sledding or snowshoeing.
  • After dinner take a walking tour of lights in your neighborhood.

Be Creative with Leftovers

Send the stuffing and potatoes home with your guests, but keep the roast. Make a big batch of the Holiday Stir-Fry recipe below — and freeze in single-serving containers for healthy weekday lunches.

  1. In a small bowl, make a sauce by combining 6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 cup chicken broth, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch.
  2. In another bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the sauce with 2 cups of leftover beef or turkey (about 2 pounds), cut into strips.
  3. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 small sliced red onion and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add 1 medium cubed sweet potato and 1 large chopped sweet red pepper.
  5. Stir-fry 2 minutes.
  6. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes until potato is tender. Add remaining sauce and the marinated meat. Stir until thick (about 3 minutes). Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 307 calories; 32g fat (7g sat.); 48g protein; 19g carbohydrate; 2g fiber; 833mg sodium; 125mg cholesterol

Be a Cocktail Smarty

You'll wake up with more than just a headache if you drink too much on New Year's Eve — you'll take in some serious calories too. "Swap the first cocktail for a big glass of water," says Glassman. "And eat some food before you indulge. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach lowers inhibitions and makes it harder to stick with smart diet choices." Check out the best and worst beverages below.

Best Bets

White wine spritzer
(wine with seltzer)
4 ounces, 40 calories

Rum and diet cola
12 ounces, 80 calories

White wine
4 ounces, 96 calories

Light beer
12 ounces, 104 calories

Vodka/gin martini
2 ounces, 119 calories

Diet Disasters

Margarita
6 ounces, 407 calories

Rum and regular cola
12 ounces, 369 calories

Pina colada
8 ounces, 312 calories

Mai tai
5 ounces, 306 calories

Mudslide
12 ounces, 820 calories

Happy New You!

Think back one year. Chances are you didn't follow through on your New Year's resolutions. Make these mini-changes to your diet and you'll stay healthy and slim — all year long.

  • Slow down. Research reveals that women who eat slower take in almost 70 fewer calories per meal (that's a 200-plus calorie savings in just one day). Why? The brain needs time to figure out whether you're satisfied or still hungry.
  • Up your antioxidant intake. Include fruits and veggies (like berries, watermelon, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and peppers) at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Antioxidants are powerful disease fighters, and foods that are chock-full of them also happen to be diet superstars, since they fill you up and are high in fiber but low in calories.
  • Make your diet 90 percent healthy, 10 percent fun. Just one daily splurge will keep you on track with your diet — as long as it's 150 calories or less (some examples: an ounce of dark chocolate, 1/2 cup of low-fat ice cream, or a glass of wine).
  • Become a morning person. Plan to exercise first thing in the a.m., when studies show that you're less likely to bail. Schedule power walks with a pal or join a yoga class (and prepay so you won't skip).

Source: Joy Bauer, RD, author of Joy Bauer's Food Cures: Treat Common Health Concerns, Look Younger & Live Longer (Rodale).

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.