Surviving the Holidays Without Packing on the Pounds

Pre-party snack plan is always wise — and that includes eating protein and fiber together

Who doesn’t love the holiday season and all the occasions to dress up, hang out with family and friends, and sip on eggnog or mulled wine? Yet with a filled glass in one hand and with endless trays of finger foods circling the room — it’s easy to lose track of how much one is eating and drinking.

Research shows that weight gained during the holidays will likely be cumulative, staying with us through next year and into next holiday season.

Here are some savvy tips and tricks that can help us all have fun at all the parties this season — without feeling like we’re busting out of our jeans come January.

1.) Have a “pregame” plan. If you skip meals or snacks during the day to “save up” for a holiday party, you will arrive starving and much more likely to inhale every tray of passed apps that walks by.

To prevent this, plan for a small yet satisfying pre-party snack about an hour before you head out the door. Your goal is to show up ready to focus on conversations with friends rather than ready to pounce on the buffet table.

The key ingredients to an effective pre-event snack always include protein and fiber together. How about a string cheese, a handful of shelled pistachios and a few 100 percent whole-grain crackers? Or try an apple sliced and topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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2.) Dress the part. Steer clear of baggy holiday sweaters, comfy shift dresses and anything with an elastic waist (or even worse — yoga pants). Loose clothing allows you to eat with abandon, making you less likely to pay attention to your brain and stomach when they are sending out “I’m getting full” messages. You want to be able to feel when you’ve had enough to eat and drink, and a tight-fitting pair of jeans or belted dress should do the trick.

3.) Eat more. Yes. One of the keys to enjoying the holidays without feeling deprived is to focus on foods you can have more of, not less. Whether you’re at a holiday party or between big events, go crazy with anything vegetable. Veggies are not only rich in vitamins and minerals — they’re high in both fiber and water, which will help fill you up and keep you munching while crowding out extra cake, cookies, and mashed potatoes.

For snacks, try pairing fruit with shelled pistachios. Pistachios contribute protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, and more while also being the least caloric nut of all the nut varieties. For the same 100-calorie serving, you can enjoy 30 whole pistachios but only between five and 15, with other snack nuts. Setton Farms has a super convenient 100-calorie pack of pistachios, which makes snacking easy.

Clear plates; wash dishes; fill up champagne flutes for other guests. These tasks will not only make you friend of the year — they’ll also keep you away from the snacks and desserts.

4.) Be picky. Most people tend to overeat when faced with a wide variety of options. Your best bet is to limit your choices by first doing a once-over of everything offered, before taking a minute to decide what looks the absolute best and most worth-it.

Then, bulk up as much of your plate as you can with crudités or any other veggie-based sides you see. Next, fill up another section of your plate with a combo of lean protein, such as chicken skewers, shrimp cocktail, or smoked salmon. For the last section of your plate, add the homemade pie, holiday cookies, casserole, or any other goodie you’ve selected as your must-have favorite of the options. Try to save the smallest part of your plate for that — and savor every bite.

5.) Work the room. Make the party about much more than the food and the drinks. Instead, remember this is the time of year that you get to socialize, and maybe even reconnect with friends and family you rarely see during the year. So, instead of parking yourself at the buffet or bar, mingle! This way, when you go grab your plate or drink, you’re feeling completely conscious of what you’re choosing to nibble and sip.

Related: Why I Love the Holidays

6.) Help the host. Clear plates; wash dishes; fill up champagne flutes for other guests. These tasks will not only make you friend of the year — they’ll also keep your hands busy and away from the snacks or desserts after you know you’ve enjoyed enough. Another great way to help your host while helping yourself is to bring your own veggie-based side dish or appetizer that everyone can enjoy. Other guests will thank you for contributing, and you’ll have a foolproof, on-track option to add to your plate. Everyone wins.

7.) Drink up. A few simple tricks will keep you from packing in the empty calories that live in most holiday drinks and from getting out of control at the dessert table after a few too many cocktails. Just as you’re planning to be picky with entrée choices, be selective with the festive cocktail you choose. Decide what sounds best to you: a mug of buttered rum, a glass of eggnog, or another equally delicious drink — and then choose to have just the one.

You can sip that treat slowly, then move onto something lighter for the rest of the evening, like a white wine spritzer, a vodka soda, or a glass of champagne. Between each cocktail, plan to drink one full glass of water to help keep the drinks from piling up and to help you stay hydrated — which will make the morning after that much more pleasant.

Jo Bartell, based in San Francisco, is a registered dietitian nutritionist; she holds a master’s degree from New York University.

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