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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Holidays


Holiday eating strategies

buffet spreadFood, food, everywhere you turn there’s more food!


“To avoid over-indulging, you’ll need some proven tips to reduce the potential for the average holiday-season weight gain of five pounds,” says Susan Mills-Gray, nutrition and health specialist with University of Missouri Extension.


“For years, people have been told to drink lots of water before going to a holiday event, but honestly, that just doesn’t work for most of us,” she adds.


These updated tips can bring success as you face the holiday feasts in the weeks to come.


  • Be realistic — don’t focus on losing weight during the holidays. Focus on maintaining your current weight. You can get back on track with weight loss when the diet danger zones of November and December have passed. Also, don’t let yourself justify binge eating during the holidays because you expect to restrict food after January 1. Plan in advance to eat a little more when you face holiday temptations. This way you can enjoy treats more often, and you’ll be less likely to binge.
  • Don’t go to a holiday event hungry. It is not a good idea to starve yourself all day so that you can indulge at one meal. We just eat more and faster when we’re hungry. You need to eat healthy throughout the day to keep glucose levels stable and to boost metabolism; this will work to reduce hunger for an evening event. Choose a high-protein snack before an event such as an apple with peanut butter, yogurt, unsalted almonds or walnuts, hardboiled egg or nonfat mozzarella cheese.
  • Watch your portions. Treat yourself to a nice drink, sweets or creamy dips without guilt, but keep portion sizes under control. This is a great way to sample different foods. Commit to the mantra “small plate, no piling.”
  • Survey party buffets before filling your plate. Decide what you’re going to eat in advance, and make only one trip to the buffet. Make a small plate that is 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 lean meat and 1/4 starches.
  • Avoid recreational eating. It takes about 30 minutes for the message that your stomach is full to get to your brain. During this time you can pile on the calories from “social eating” — food is there and everyone else is eating. Enjoy your choices and then wait at least 30 minutes before deciding if you would like a bit more.
  • Make sure whatever you’re offered is splurge-worthy. We all have some favorites that we look forward to during this time of year. Why waste calories on foods you can have anytime (chips, salted mixed nuts, dip, etc)? Try rating food options on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is best) and have a bit more of the foods that are truly special and unique to the season.
  • Make a conscious choice to limit high-fat items. If it’s creamy, fried or cheese-filled, it’s going to be loaded with calories. Commit to tasting portions. Low-fat, high-fiber foods allow you to eat a larger amount for fewer calories and not feel deprived.
  • Use strong, intense mints or gum. These dull the taste buds and also trigger satiety messages to the brain. So use one when you arrive and use it again when you find yourself wanting to nibble.
  • Choose alcoholic beverages wisely. Alcohol is high in calories — liquors, sweet wines and sweet mixed drinks may contain up to 450 calories per six ounces! Calories from alcohol tend to be stored in the abdomen. Also, alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating. If you choose to drink, select light wines and beers, and use non-alcoholic mixers such as tonic water or diet soda. Ask for your drink in a tall, slender glass — you actually receive less while giving the illusion of more!
  • Go easy on eggnog and punch. Many holiday beverages are packed with calories. Choose calorie-free water to help fill your stomach and keep you hydrated.
  • Maintain perspective. Overeating one day won’t make or break your eating plan. It certainly won’t make you gain weight. It takes days and days of overeating to gain weight. If you do overindulge, don’t just give up. Plan to get back on track the next day. There are going to be a few bumps on the road to healthier eating and we have to acknowledge this to avoid guilt and despair.


For more information, contact your local University of Missouri Extension Center or contact Susan Mills-Gray at


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Last update: Tuesday, December 13, 2016