Surviving the holiday eating season

Archive, Month, November

The November-to-mid-January holiday eating season can make or break a diet and other health goals.

The joy and festivities celebrating the upcoming holiday season can often come at a steep price for many.


The cheer and ‘togetherness’ of the season is often enjoyed with plenty of food and drink. And, in many instances, the end of the season for most is the start of a new season in which they are motivated to lose their extra weight and get back on a healthier track.

The work to burn off those sugars, fats and excess carbs can be minimized, though, with some planning and a little extra discipline during the season itself.

“Festive eating and the excess calories that commonly come along with it this time of year can have a real impact on us — maybe a few extra pounds to work off,” said Erin Sauve, lead dietitian at McLaren Macomb. “But one of the lasting effects can be the development of some bad eating habits.

"This isn’t to say you can’t enjoy some of grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie," she continued, "but to be mindful of portions and balancing your plate with healthier choices as well. Food can have strong ties socially and emotionally — being too restrictive can make some people feel more isolated during the holidays. On the other hand, eating too much can feel good in the moment but be destructive overtime. It’s a little bit of a balancing act, but making a conscious effort to make nutritious choices now aids greatly in starting the New Year on the right note.”

The average holiday meal (including party buffets) can average between 2,700 to 3,000 calories, and some of the seasonal favorites can hide more calories than some realize.

  • Mixed nuts (1 cup – 816 calories)
  • Cranberry sauce (1 cup – 418 calories)
  • Stuffing/Dressing (1 cup – 360 calories)
  • Mashed potatoes (1 cup without butter, sour cream, etc. – 400 calories)
  • Gravy (1/2 cup – 178 calories)
  • Dinner roll (1 roll – 100 calories)
  • Ham (4 oz. – 345 calories)
  • Turkey (dark meat) (6 oz. – 350 calorie)
  • Pot roast (4 oz. – 387 calories)
  • Eggnog (1 glass – 343 calories)
  • Wine (1 glass – 120 calories)
  • Champagne (1 flute – 133 calories)

These calorie counts balloon (and the nutritional value plummets) when salt, seasonings and other items are added onto the plate. But there are ways people can save themselves from these excessive calorie counts and the average two- to three-pound seasonal weight gain.

Healthy holiday substitutes

If getting a jumpstart on a healthy New Year’s goal is a motivator, there are simple substitutions that can be made to holiday staples that can cut the excess but maintain the flavor. For instance:
  • Turkey over ham
  • Sweet potatoes as opposed to seasoned mash potatoes
  • Traditional unsalted mixed nuts over candies and cookies
  • Homemade hot cocoa (warm milk and cocoa powder) over traditional drinks (eggnog and mixed cocktails)

More good ideas

Treat calories like a daily budget and don’t go over it.
  • Don’t “rollover” calorie counts — start fresh at zero every day.
  • Have a snack before a party and don’t arrive hungry.
  • Pause and take a break before considering a second helping (sometimes a “full feeling” can take a moment).
  • Stress fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich foods to feel more full.
  • Use a small plate — the smaller area fills up faster (prioritize lean proteins, fruits and vegetables).
  • Don’t neglect exercise.
  • Allow desserts, but not to excess (a maximum of three bites of desserts).
  • Build willpower, which will reinforce itself the more it’s practiced.