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When the holidays roll around, time with friends, family and loved ones spike, as do great memories, lots of photos and even more food. But if you’re in the midst of a diet or watching what you eat, the time of year can seem like nothing more than a two-month period of temptation to swerve from your diet. But, it doesn’t always have to be that way. We tapped top fitness experts and nutritionists for their tips on how to keep your eating in check.
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Every expert we spoke to agreed that substituting traditional holiday foods for healthier options is not only necessary to keep your diet in check, but also super easy to do. “For appetizers, I always swap out the usual cheese and tasty dips for hummus,” says neuroscientist and holistic wellness expert Leigh Winters. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, founder of NYC’s Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, cauliflower is a great tool to use. “Try making cauliflower mash this year instead of mashed potatoes,” he says. The texture is identical, and you’ll be doing your waistline quite the favor.
Another quality swap: the classic green bean casserole for roasted brussel sprouts, which celebrity nutritionist Cynthia Pasquella explains is one of her go-to moves during the holidays. Instead of sweet potato casserole, heavy with butter and topped with marshmallows, holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman relies on homemade hasselback butternut squash topped with maple syrup, vanilla ghee and pecans. Yum!
Winters says one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re not eating guilt-filled foods is offering to cook it your way. “If you’re invited to a gathering, offer to bring an appetizer or dish, and make it a healthy one,” holistic nutritionist Elissa Goodman says. “Worst-case scenario, if there are no healthy options, you can snack on the one you brought!”
“Make your favorite recipes a little healthier by cooking with the highest-quality cold-pressed oils and organic produce whenever possible, and mix in superfoods like sprouted nuts and seeds,” says Danielle Duboise, cofounder of Sakara Life. Pasquella says using monk fruit or dates instead of sugar is also a smart swap.
“Don’t go in starved,” Dr. Lipman warns, adding that you should still eat every three to four hours leading up to your event (or dinner) in order to keep cravings at bay. Dr. Charles Passler, nutritionist and founder of Pure Change—he also happens to be the nutritionist for the Victoria’s Secret Angels—agrees, adding that snacking on protein-filled options and healthy fats before you leave the house is your best bet to keep you full.
The bottom line: If you arrive on an empty stomach, you’re way more likely to give in to eating unhealthy choices.
One of the most “why didn’t we think of that?” tricks we’ve heard yet, Pasquella uses the “Clutch Trick” herself and also recommends it to her clients for events and parties. “Instead of taking a bag with straps to holiday parties, take a clutch instead,” she says, explaining that holding your strapless bag will keep your hands occupied and will make it more difficult to slack mindlessly. Genius.
Dr. Passler recommends always having a glass of water or two before you have an alcoholic beverage—this will prevent you from over-drinking just because you’re thirsty—and to be mindful ofwhen you’re drinking, not just what. “If you’re at a dinner, don’t have an alcoholic beverage until dinner is served,” he says. And when it comes time to choose your drink, be smart.
“If you’re going for a cocktail with liquor, choose small-batch or artisanal brands,” says Whitney Tingle, cofounder of Sakara Life, an organic and plant-based meal company. “They typically have fewer additives and are made with better-quality ingredients.” If you need a mixer, look for options with little or no carbohydrates. Dr. Passler says another good drink option is a glass of dry wine. “The average glass of dry wine red or white has less than five grams of sugar and carbs,” he adds. Another glass could be a better option than that sugary dessert, too.
While making smart choices is beneficial in all realms, remember that it’s also important to stay sane and enjoy your time with loved ones. “Enjoy the foods you love in moderation, and remember that you are what you do the majority of the time,” Duboise says. Tingle adds that by eating clean most of the time, you can afford to treat yourself and splurge a bit at the holidays. “And you shouldn’t punish yourself for it.”
By Danielle Fontana , Editorial Assistant