Staying Healthy for the Holidays

Chicago – Americans gain an average of five pounds during the winter season, usually due to a host of holiday feasts, parties and gatherings that offer an abundance of tasty, but not always healthy, foods and snacks. While the temptations are inevitable, experts at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group remind us that you can still enjoy the holiday season without the worry of weight gain.

“By taking a few simple measures to ensure you stay conscious of what you eat, you can easily start the season with a healthy plan that will help ward off extra pounds,” said Hannah El-Amin, registered dietician at Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.

El-Amin, who regularly counsels clients on how to incorporate healthy eating habits into daily living, offers these tips:

Plan ahead
A common misconception surrounding holiday feasts is that skipping meals will “save room” for – and justify – large quantities of food consumed later in the day. However, this can quickly throw off your metabolism and lead to overeating.
“Skipping meals or snacks in anticipation of a feast sets your hunger into overdrive,” said El-Amin. “By the time you finally eat, excess hunger will make you more likely to choose food impulsively, thus making you prone to overeating.”

• Eat a well-balanced breakfast – Protein and high-fiber foods help maintain a healthy metabolism that allows you to enjoy, but not overdo, your favorite foods.
• Snack a little – Eat a healthy snack or light meal like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite prior to arriving at a holiday event. Drinking water throughout the day also helps curtail your appetite.
Portion Control
Be selective and choose small amounts of food to enjoy rather than piling your plate high with your favorite dishes.

“It is important to consider what you are eating as well as how much you are eating. Focus on moderation and take smaller portions,” said El-Amin.

• Avoid the clean plate club – Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed. You can still enjoy your favorite holiday treats while eating smaller portions.
• Survey the menu – Check out each item before filling your plate. Only choose your favorite foods and skip your least favorite. Don’t feel pressured to say yes to everything set out.
• Swap this for that – Achieve balance by swapping some of your favorite foods with healthier counterparts. For example, instead of chips and dip chose baked chip with salsa. Skip fried appetizers and opt for grilled satay or steamed veggies. When it comes to the turkey reach for white meat without the skin.

Keep Moving
El-Amin says the key to success is a combined focus on diet and exercise. She suggests making exercise fun.

• Make sure to mingle – Don’t park in front of the buffet at a party. If you stand by the buffet, you’ll eat more than you would if it was across the room.
• Take a walk – After a filling meal, go for a stroll with your family to see the neighborhood’s holiday displays.
• Enjoy fresh air – Organize a friendly football game outside or build snowmen with the children.

For more information on how to maintain healthy eating habits during the holidays and throughout the year, visit or call (312) 926-DOCS.

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