Does it feel like the joy of the holidays gets overshadowed by an internal battle when you want to enjoy the celebratory foods of the season? Measuring your food is probably the last thing you feel like doing, but it’s that time of year when it’s easy to go overboard with eating. And it’s exhausting when you end up feeling like you’re on an energy rollercoaster.
If you go overboard with eating often enough, you can end up frustrated with weight gain that somehow takes a lot longer to lose than it did to gain.
Eating and drinking more calories than your body can burn is especially easy at this time of year.
The bad news? There’s no perfect formula that guarantees you’ll avoid the calorie overload that can make you feel sluggish and promote weight gain.
The good news? You have lots of research-tested options and a combination of strategies is likely better than relying on any single strategy.
Make Portion Awareness the Default, Not a Job
Especially when extra-rich holiday foods are around, appropriate portions are more important than ever. If you don’t want to measure portions, try these methods instead.
- At home, switch to smaller plates. Studies show that the larger your plate, the more food you’ll put on it, and the more you’ll eat. Use 8-9 inch “salad plates” for an automatic assist on portion control.
- If you get take-out, transferring your food to an 8-9 inch plate can help you avoid the tendency to eat on autopilot until the food is all gone.
- If you pick up calorie-rich treats like chips, cookies or ice cream, serve a modest portion onto a small plate or “custard cup” size bowl and put the rest away.
- Aside from vegetables and fruit, keep extra food off the table and out of sight. That turns a second portion into a conscious choice, not an accident.
Consider Options for Pre-Portioned Meals
Research has shown that using pre-portioned food can provide short-term help for cutting calories and achieving weight loss. That advantage is often short-lived, however, as studies suggest that this approach to weight loss begins to equal other weight loss strategies within a year. If you are especially rushed and distracted at this time of year, pre-portioned meals and snacks may be a good temporary option, even if they aren’t a long-term solution. Focus on what you’re expecting to accomplish and which barriers you need the most help overcoming.
Particularly for meals that you eat alone, here are some different approaches you can try:
- Choose a healthy frozen meal or the many choices for fresh take-out meals available at the grocery store. All you need to do is heat and eat.
- Try home-delivered meal kits. Depending on which meals you select, some involve a little more work than simply heating and they tend to be more expensive than a frozen product. But they are generally less expensive than a restaurant meal, can save you a trip to the store and teach you new cooking skills that can be a foundation for long-term healthy habits.
- Create your own frozen meals using Tupperware or small glass dishes. To minimize effort, choose containers that are both freezer and microwave safe. To keep your food safe, be careful about how long you store leftovers and how you thaw or cook what you freeze. Check out these food safety tips from the USDA.
- Make small tweaks if healthy pre-portioned meals and snacks still leave you hungry. You can make a meal more filling with a small increase in calories by adding extra raw vegetables, a side salad or a piece of fruit for dessert. If that doesn’t help, get your MyPlate Plan. Compare it to what you’ve been eating to make sure you haven’t under-estimated your calorie and food needs.
Focus on What’s in Your Portions
Whether you manage portion sizes by paying more attention, using smaller plates or relying on pre-set portions, don’t focus only on restricting how much you eat. To set yourself up for success, consider which foods you eat and drink, too. Especially during the holidays, you’re surrounded by choices that are concentrated in calories. Even small portions of rich desserts, sweetened eggnog, high-fat appetizers and celebratory cocktails can add a few hundred calories to your daily tally.
Here are some healthy swaps when you are making a dish or building your plate:
- Make soups, dips and sauces that are traditionally loaded with sour cream or heavy cream lower in calories and more healthful by using Greek yogurt or evaporated milk. And try adding puréed white beans, garbanzo beans or lentils to boost thickness.
- Add extra vegetables and reduce the proportion of pasta and potatoes in mixed dishes to make a hearty portion lower in calories.
- Be choosy when calorie-rich foods surround you. You can make the holidya season manageable by choosing the calorie-dense foods and drinks that are most important to you, and let the others go.