Eat Your Way to a Better Holiday: 10 Tips

By Karen Sechowski, RD

Karen Sechowski is a registered dietitian in the Greater Chicago area whose passion is prevention through education. She attended Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Health Science. She completed her dietetic internship at Prairie View A&M University in the Houston area. 

Maybe you’ve worked hard all year to be healthy. Maybe you haven’t but you still don’t want to gain too much weight this holiday season. Whatever your situation is, it is possible to have fun and be healthy during the holidays because, let’s face it, you will have to face the New Year once all of the festivities are over and done. Follow these ten tips to keep your holidays bright and light:

  1. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. It is a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight, but all it really does is slow down your metabolism and make your body hold onto whatever nutrients you do have because it thinks you are starving. Eat three regular-sized meals or six small meals to keep your metabolism going.
  2. Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle with you at all times so you don’t mistake your thirst for hunger and indulge when you don’t really need to eat.
  3. Remain physically active. The minimum recommended guideline for adults calls for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. During the holidays, it is even more important to keep up with your exercise because of the increased calorie intake.
  4. Choose smaller plates. Literally. The more reasonably sized (smaller) the plate is, the less food you will eat. Studies have shown that adults will mindlessly pile more on their plates if the plate is bigger than they would if the plate were smaller. They were satisfied with the amount on the small plate but asked for more when given the same amount on a big plate.
  5. Choose reduced-fat cheese from the cheese plate. Any cheese from skim or part-skim milk is going to be lower in fat. Mozzarella cheese is a good example of a cheese that is naturally lower in fat.Limburger cheese
  6. Make your dips with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  Greek yogurt is lower in calories and provides a good dose of protein.
  7. Get cooking. Cooking at home can save hundreds of calories because you can control the portion size and what goes into the food.
  8. Eat slowly. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to receive the trigger from the stomach saying it’s full.
  9. Be conscious of your nibbling. It’s hard to resist the extra goodies laying around the house, but those extra calories add up over time.
  10. Everything in moderation. It’s okay to enjoy your favorite food, even if it is high in fat and calories. It is, after all, the holidays. But enjoy one small serving, and jump back on the healthy bandwagon.
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A healthy iftaar

After fasting for more than 12 hours, I am ready to eat! Here are some tips that I keep in mind especially at an iftaar party:

Pick up the healthy options: Most likely we will be eating our traditional/cultural foods.  When it comes to our traditional foods, not all of them are unhealthy. Cholay (chickpeas), fruit chat, daal (lentils), haleem (lentils and meat) are some great food choices. Cholay, daal, and haleem have protein and carbs and usually not cooked with much oil (Click here to check out my nutrient analysis of homemade daal).

Go easy: Items like samosas and pakoray are deep-fried so don’t eat too many. I love these foods and it would be wrong to ask anyone to avoid their favorite foods. The key is to enjoy them in moderation.

Avoid eye-contact: With the dessert I mean… If you keep staring at the dessert…your mouth will start watering and you are more likely to fail at resisting your urge, and going to end up eating it. Tell yourself you are satisfied and just don’t make eye contact! Busy yourself with a good conversation or better yet head out for prayer.

Haleem 3

1 cup Haleem with fresh cucumber and cantaloupe

Remember: Vegetables are very low in calories so you can eat a lot of them!

What about Tandoori Naan?

Just 1 Deep brand Tandoori Naan has 250 kcals! If you eat 2 Chapli Kabobs with 1 naan that will put you over 500 kcals. A better option would be to choose a whole wheat tortilla instead of a naan.

Bottom Line is to eat what you enjoy in moderation. Try to include fruit and some veggies with your dinner to balance your meal, as well as get fiber and nutrients into your body. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water!

Mindful Eating Tip

“As the size of our dishes increase, so does the amount we scoop onto them. They cause us to serve ourselves more because they make the food look small…The smaller the serving dish, the less you take, and the less you eat” Brian Wansink

After Taraweeh late night healthy snack ideas:

Low-fat frozen yogurt
2 cups of watermelon
Cup of milk with an apple
100% fruit juice popsicle stick
Low-fat popcorn
Click here for more snack ideas of less than 200 kcals

Is dieting the answer?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “diet”?

Well, personally, I think restrictive, temporary, and burdensome. All of these words have a negative connotation and you cannot change with a negative attitude. You have to have a positive attitude to bring about a positive change in your life!

Diet is temporary – we start a process of losing weight and then we stop when we have reached our desired weight. Many people, once they stop, even end up regaining the lost weight. Eating healthy and staying physically active should be part of our daily routine – our new lifestyle! It is important to have a healthy lifestyle not just to stay fit and look good, but also to reduce the chances of diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity.

Eating healthy does not mean one has to avoid eating desserts and fried foods. The key is to eat in moderation. There is nothing wrong with enjoying these delicious treats once in a while.

So what works? It is proven that a healthy diet and regular exercise will help one lose weight. It is a balancing act: If your “Calories in” = your “Calories out” then this will help you maintain weight. If you burn more Calories than you consume then you will be able to lose weight.  I will be discussing more on this in my later posts.

Balancing Act