Lighten Up – It’s the Holidays!

| Posted On Oct 25, 2011 | By:

Almost anyone who battles with their weight or tries to eat healthfully can agree that the fast-approaching holiday feasting season presents many challenges.  Whether you count calories or carbs, it’s easy to slip up during the holidays, which for many of us starts when those bags of “fun-size” candy appear in the grocery stores in early October, and ends after the Valentine’s Day chocolates are eaten.

While statistics on holiday weight gain vary, one thing is certain: most people will gain at least some weight, and individuals who are overweight to begin with tend to gain the most by the end of the holiday season.  Researchers estimate that individuals who are overweight (BMI of 25-30) or obese (BMI >30) will gain five times more weight than normal-weight individuals during the Thanksgiving holiday alone – and if that’s not bad enough, most of that weight is never lost. 

Of course, all of the food-focused celebrations are to blame.  The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without all of the traditional comfort foods, sweet treats, and calorie-laden beverages tempting us at every party and around every corner.  So rather than hibernating for the next few months, try some of these strategies to lighten up your holiday eating and keep your diet in check.

NEVER arrive hungry

Skipping meals so you can splurge later in the day almost always backfires.  It’s hard to make good choices and practice portion control when your stomach is growling, and in the end, you’ll probably eat far more calories as a result.  Instead, eat a healthy snack or light meal before you leave the house to curb your appetite – a small bowl of cereal, half of a turkey sandwich, or a piece of fruit with a yogurt will all do the trick.  The 200 or so calories you spend at home will likely save you a few thousand later on.

Spend wisely

Before you start piling food on your plate, walk around the buffet table, check out the dessert table, and make a plan to spend most of your calories on the healthiest choices you can find.  Fill your plate with colorful low calorie vegetables and lean meats like turkey or fish.  Add smaller amounts of higher calorie potatoes, stuffing, and anything creamy or saucy.  Stick to just a taste of the desserts, and pass on foods that don’t tempt your taste buds.

Don’t drink your calories

Unless you’re sipping on a Slimfast instead of eating turkey, don’t waste your calories on your beverages.  Consider the calories in the following 6oz drinks: 

Wine 140
Sparkling Cider 150
Eggnog 260 (without alcohol – with alcohol is 360)
Flavored Martini 250-500

It’s easy to see how a few cocktails can put a dent in your diet.  Stick to diet soda, seltzer, or even a wine spritzer and eat your calories instead. 

Keep a journal

It’s especially important during the holidays to weigh yourself frequently and be aware of what you are eating. Consult an expert, like a Harvard Vanguard Nutritionist, to determine your daily calorie needs, and then track what you eat by using a journal.  Programs and apps like and Lose It! can also help you estimate your daily calorie needs and track how many calories you eat and burn each day so you stay on track. 

Burn it off

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we can’t resist temptation, so make exercise a priority during the holidays.  Be consistent with your workouts.  Do a longer morning walk if you know you will be eating out in the evening, and add some extra time at the gym the next day.  Every 10 minutes of brisk cardio exercise will burn off approximately 100 calories, so add up the damage and burn it off.

Choose this not that

Swapping out a few high calorie choices for lower calorie choices can really add up:

Instead of: Choose:
And Save:
4 stuffed mushrooms 4 pieces shrimp cocktail
330 calories
4 oz dark meat turkey with skin 4 oz turkey breast, no skin
70 calories
1 cup green bean casserole 1 cup steamed green beans
100 calories
4 oz candied sweet potato 4 oz baked sweet potato
60 calories
½ cup gravy ¼ cup gravy
40 calories
1 slice pecan pie 1 slice pumpkin pie
225 calories
8 oz regular eggnog 8 oz light eggnog
100 calories
6 oz wine 6 oz wine spritzer
75 calories
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About Helen Mastro, MS, RD, CDE

Helen Mastro has been with Atrius Health since 1993 and sees patients at our Harvard Vanguard Somerville and Wellesley practice locations. While she provides medical nutrition therapy education for a wide variety of nutritional problems, she has a particular interest in the areas of diabetes education, obesity, and pediatric nutrition.


  1. I found this article to be very informative, I loved the “eat this not that” helpful. My goal is not to gain weight during the upcoming fattening holiday season!

    Comment by Barbara L Moss on November 12, 2015 at 4:24 pm

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