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8 Ways to Lighten Up During the Holidays

Tips for enjoying the season without depriving yourself

Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Fruitcake.  I bet you can almost taste these holiday favorites — and feel yourself loosening your belt a notch or two.

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There are a lot of food temptations this time of year, starting with Halloween and continuing right through to Valentine's Day. For many people, candy and holiday sweets become enemies. They feel guilty eating those foods, or they think that a bite will lead to a binge. I don't get it. As long as you use a little common sense, I say you can enjoy holiday food and all the traditions that go along with it. In other words, don't deny or deprive yourself.

portrait of martina navratilova

Martina Navratilova. — Photo by Brian Smith

I have a few ideas on how to do that:

  1. Get involved in the cooking. Not many people know this, but cooking burns 150 calories an hour (that's the equivalent of a piece of pumpkin pie!), according to the American College of Sports Medicine. While you're cooking, put on some lively holiday music. This helps get you into the holiday spirit — and may even make you move faster around the kitchen for a greater calorie burn.
  2. To take the edge off your appetite, begin your holiday meal with a light soup or salad. Be sure the soup is broth-based, with fat skimmed off, and the salad isn't topped with a high-fat creamy dressing.
  3. Opt for lean turkey meat. If you want to watch a few calories and fat grams, forget the drumstick and go for the breast. One of the leanest meats you can eat is skinless turkey breast, with only 90 calories in a three-ounce serving. The dark meat you get in that drumstick has saturated fat and 130 calories per serving. If breast meat is too dry for your liking, top it with a little cranberry sauce. There are now some great low-sugar cranberry sauces available, many made with agave nectar, a natural sweetener that helps cut the calories in normally sugary products.
  4. Use creative low-fat cooking techniques. Make your mashed potatoes lighter, for example, by using low-fat buttermilk instead of whole milk or half-and-half. 
  5. Exercise portion control. Yes, this is the toughest thing to do, because everything looks and smells so good. Before you fill your plate, remember that the  more you put on your plate, the more you'll eat. 
  6. Eat earlier in the day. Serve holiday dinners at 1 or 2 p.m. rather than 7 p.m., when your metabolism is naturally lower. An afternoon meal also means you'll have time for a post-feast walk while it's still light out. 
  7. Be the slowest eater at the table. You will enjoy the food more and will feel satisfied with less. Pay attention to texture, smell and subtleties of taste. This will help curb the automatic eating that brings so many calories. 
  8. Keep a proper perspective. If you do eat more than you intend, keep a positive attitude. Don't turn an event into more than it really is: it's just another day with meals and calories. In the scheme of a month or year's worth of eating, what can one day mean? It will not ruin your weight. The trick is to bounce back to healthy eating as soon as possible.

The important thing here is to relax, and remember that the key is moderation. I have plenty of indulgences, but all in moderation.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

You may also like: Martina's holiday recipes. >>

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