A Healthy Holiday (and a Happy New Year!)

I don't know about you, but I could use a little Christmas right this very minute. So thank goodness the holidays are upon us again! Like most people, for me the best part of the holiday season is the food. Stop by my house this time of year and you better be prepared to indulge in some homemade cookies and nog. Now not to be a Grinch, but eating an extra 500 calories a day will add a pound of fat to your waistline (or hips...) in only a week. Considering we start our holiday indulgence around Thanksgiving and continue through January, that can mean an extra 5 pounds of weight carried into the new year! What is even scarier is how easy that extra 500 calories is to eat. For example, a cup of full fat egg nog with brandy can clock in at over 500 calories, and a slice of traditional gingerbread can have upwards of 400. I found a recipe for sticky buns last week that smacked me in the face with 800 calories per roll! (I made some equally delicious rolls with 2 fewer sticks of butter) So how do we make the holidays special without bursting our belts? Don't worry- I have some suggestions!

First things first. Prioritize your treats. Are there foods you love and only eat this time of year? Go ahead and enjoy them, but skip the foods you have no connection to. Saving your calories for foods you truly love and are special to you can help you limit your intake and appreciate those treats even more. Personally, I choose my great grandmother's sand tarts over any store bought cookie, even if it is peppermint Oreos.

My next tip is this: swap your everyday foods with healthy, holiday alternatives. There are some very healthy foods that add the flavor of the holiday without the calories. For example oranges, pomegranates, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, pecans, baked apples, roasted chestnuts, or veggie trays that look like Christmas trees. Try putting a slice of orange in your water instead of lemon, add some cinnamon to your popcorn, or try a seasonal tea. A sprinkle of spice or touch of citrus here and there can keep you feeling festive, even when you're not splurging.

While we're on the subject of feeling festive, let's find some ways to celebrate that don't involve food. With enough holiday spirit, any activity can be a party! Off the top of my head I can think of card making, caroling, walking to look at lights, reading a story, watching a movie, making Christmas ornaments, ice skating, window shopping, calling your grandpa, making a scarf for your dog, listening to music in front of a fire, wrapping presents. It's never too late to start a new tradition, and it doesn't have to involve butter.

Of course most parties this time of year do involve glorious buffets with all kinds of delightful treats. Choosing nuts, steamed shrimp, fresh fruit, and veggies (even with a little dip) is a way to enjoy the party without over indulging. And again, set priorities. Would you rather have some of the cheese ball or a chocolate cookie? Try not to choose both. As for dessert, did you know that a slice of pumpkin pie can have 200 calories less than a slice of pecan pie?! That's an easy swap that leaves some calories for whipped cream. If you are choosing to drink alcohol, avoid the sugary drinks and opt for mixers like seltzers or diet sodas.

My final bit of advice for making the most of your holiday season in a healthy way, is to give yourself a break. Can we all agree that December is a terrible time to try to lose weight? If we can only maintain through the new year, we're doing just fine. If you miss the gym because you're out enjoying time with family or finishing some end of the year project, don't sweat it! The gym will be there in January, but holiday family traditions come but once a year. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

katieKatie Schaeffer is a graduate student at D'Youville College, completing her master's thesis is dietetics, focusing on improving urban food environments. She has a background in environmental science, agriculture and nutrition. A 15 year vegetarian, Katie advocates eating a mostly local, plant based diet to improve health and the environment. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Western New York Dietetics Association, and the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine practice group. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking meals for friends and family, singing with the Buffalo Choral Arts Society, and making her own clothes. She loves a good road trip and experiencing new places and new foods. Katie lives in Buffalo with her husband Hill and their dog Brody. Her favorite food is tofu. Not really. It's actually coconut cake.

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