Guilt-Free Holiday Eating

| Posted On Nov 19, 2014 | By:

holiday party eatingThe holidays can be the most difficult time of the year for those who are trying to maintain a healthy regimen. After all, food is a part of every gathering, and between the parties with co-workers, friends and family, there tends to be a lot of eating involved. It’s not necessary to put a damper on the holiday spirit and completely discourage the food celebration, but whether you’re the one cooking or going to a party, it’s important to have a strategy to make it easier to stay on track.

Although this may not sound like much, research has indicated that the average person gains about 1 lb each holiday season. The same research shows that people never lose the extra weight. Over the years, these pounds can add up.

Below, I’ve outlined some tactics for the upcoming six weeks to help you a have a healthier and guilt-free holiday season, a balance between tradition and nutrition!

Don’t go hungry

Opposite of what many believe, it’s important not to go to a party hungry. It can cause you to be so hungry that you completely overeat. Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch beforehand. You can choose to shrink your portions a bit, but if you skip meals altogether, you risk losing control of how much you eat.

Save it for the main event

Once you arrive at the party, I encourage you to use a plate so you know how much food you are consuming. In general, appetizers are the worst food item for you at a party. It’s easy to fill up on starters before the main course is served. Don’t use up your calories on the appetizers, save them for the main event.

Tactics for the Chef

Traditional holiday side dish recipes can be loaded with fat and calories, but the good news is that many lower-calorie versions exist today, so I encourage you to serve a variety. Maybe you can have one traditional side and one that is lower in fat and calories. (So a tip for the guests: fill up on the healthier one and have a taste or two of the traditional one.)I’ve included a recipe below that’s worth a try!

For desserts and baked goods, use a third less sugar when baking or even a light buttery spread if the recipe calls for butter. If you don’t change the ingredients in a recipe, try shrinking the portion size of each serving to make it lower in calories and stick with only one dessert.

It’s easy to modify a lot of existing recipes to trim calories and fat. Refer to the chart below for helpful substitutions. Keep in mind that you still want to feel satisfied and enjoy your traditional recipes. Make one or two substitutions per recipe to keep the flavor of the original recipe with fewer calories.

Copeland Guilt Free Holiday Chart

Watch out for drinkable calories

Calories from alcohol tend to be stored in the mid-section area, and popular holiday drinks can easily stack up the calories. Limit or avoid beer, sugary cocktails and drinks with creamy liquors such as Bailey’s or Kahlua. Instead, choose a glass of wine or spirits mixed with diet soda or seltzer water. Research shows calories consumed at a meal increase 20% when alcohol is consumed before the meal, so try alternating cocktails with a glass of water to save calories and prevent mindless eating.

Get Movin’

Feeling uncomfortably full after a meal makes many people feel discouraged about their lack of self-control. But taking a walk after a meal can help with digestion, as can eating a slice of fresh or dehydrated unsweetened papaya – it contains digestive enzymes that aid with protein, fat, and starch breakdown.

I encourage you not to wait until January 1st to initiate an exercise program. Starting early or sticking with an existing program will help keep the calories off and alleviate holiday stress.

For some, adding extra walking to the day may come naturally with all the errands and shopping. But make sure to eat on a regular basis and carry snacks on those shopping days so you are not tempted to eat high calorie convenience foods. You may also consider getting up a little earlier to take a morning walk, or making an effort to take extra steps by wearing a pedometer. Although the holiday season can be very hectic, taking the time to increase your physical activity may compensate for the extra calories from parties and help you better manage the overall stress of the holiday season.

Most definitely attainable

Have a specific plan on how you will approach this holiday season. This will help you stick to a healthy regimen during the holidays. Eat wholesome foods from good quality ingredients. Be mindful of your choices and balance it out with exercise. At the end, this is the opportunity to make a great healthy new start.

Wheat Berry*-Cranberry Salad (Serves 6)


1 cup wheat berries (makes about 2 1/4 cups cooked)
1/3 cup pecans
2 tsp orange zest, grated
1/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T honey
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup carrot, diced
2 T green onion, thinly sliced, including some green top
2 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped


Combine wheat berries and 6 cups water in large saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer just until wheat berries are tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350˚F. Place pecans in a small baking pan and bake, stirring once, 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool and coarsely chop.

At the same time, whisk together orange zest and juice, vinegar, honey, oil, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in hot cooked wheat berries and cranberries. Let stand to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Stir in carrot, green onion, and parsley.

Stir in pecans just before serving. Serve salad chilled or at room temperature.

Nutrient Analysis per serving: Calories: 227; Total fat: 8 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 104 mg; Carbohydrate: 36 g; Fiber: 5 g; Protein: 5 g

*  Wheat berries are the whole grain form of wheat – the whole complete grain before it has undergone any processing.


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About Fernanda Copeland, MS, RD, CDE, CSN

Fernanda Copeland is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and sports nutritionist. She joined Harvard Vanguard in 2007 and currently sees patients at our Watertown and Chestnut Hill/West Roxbury practices. Her clinical interests are food allergies, bariatric nutrition, weight and diabetes management. In her free time, she enjoys time with her dog, gardening and spending time outdoors.