Strategic indulgence during the holidays is a good way to stay health-conscious | VailDaily.com

Strategic indulgence during the holidays is a good way to stay health-conscious

Kari Dequine Harden
Steamboat Pilot & Today

Pecan Praline Cookies

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The average American gains one to two pounds over the holidays.

It isn't much, considering the month-long season of parties, presents and pie for breakfast. But, if you are putting on 20 pounds over 10 years, it adds up.

There are strategies for staying (somewhat) health-conscious without adding stress or sacrificing too much food and fun. After all, it's the holidays. Life is short. Indulgences should not be avoided entirely but can be chosen with consideration.

"The occasional indulgence is just fine as long as you stick to your routine in between," said Laura Stout, registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“The occasional indulgence is just fine as long as you stick to your routine in between.”Laura StoutUCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center dietitian nutritionist

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Eat your usual breakfast. Keep your fridge stocked with what you typically eat. Maintain your regular exercise schedule, she said. You don't have to stop all your healthy habits just because you have family in town or a different work schedule.

And in between the parties and big meals, find seasonal and healthy indulgences, Stout said. One of her favorites is a big salad with pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, oranges and salmon.

Another of Stout's big tips is to stay hydrated. Start the day with water before coffee and drink it throughout the day and along with libations.

Water brings a wide scope of benefits, from boosting mood and brain power to helping you feel more full, improving metabolism and flushing out toxins.

Smaller plates help

When it comes to big buffets, take the time to look over the spread first, Stout advises. Prioritize your favorites. Choose your appetizers wisely, and go easy on the fried food.

Challenge yourself to fill half the plate with veggies, she said. Opt for the healthiest dishes on the first trip. Fill up on fiber.

Stout suggests making your plate colorful, which inherently adds variety and nutrition.

Make some decisions, as hard as they may be. "Instead of stuffing and a roll, choose one or the other," she said.

Go easy on the sauces and gravy — they can quickly double the calories on a dish.

Portion control is always good to keep in mind. One quick fix is to use a smaller plate. Also give yourself some time before that fourth trip to the buffet — you might find you are already fuller than you think.

At parties, try not to station yourself for too long by the cheese ball and spinach artichoke dip. Out of sight, out of mind.

Same goes for the bar. The mulled wine will not disappear if you leave it unattended for a half an hour.

Eggnog is always singled out as one of the biggest calorie culprits, but even that can be modified and enjoyed in (almost) all its creamy glory. Stout suggested cutting it with skim milk, soy or almond milk and upping the spices. "You won't even notice the difference," Stout said.

And watching what you drink can have not only caloric value but social and workplace benefits. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with a glass of water or nonalcoholic option, Stout said. A glass of seltzer water with a lime looks just like a "real" drink.

Burn off the calories

Alternatively, there's an approach that allows for the enjoyment of every cheese straw, hunk of ham, slice of pecan pie and whole milk white Russian in sight. After all, weight gain is simply a calculation of calories in versus calories out. And the Colorado mountains offer no shortage of indoor and outdoor ways to burn calories. If you overdo it eating and drinking, you can always overdo it on the exercise side.

But, even an after-dinner walk can go a long ways to help digestion and remind the brain you can get by on one slice of pie instead of two. "One thousand steps after every meal is the best thing for digestion," Stout said.

When it comes to gift-giving, Stout suggests helping others resist temptation by choosing things such as candles, flowers or a fruit of the month club. And, if you find yourself with too much toffee and fruitcake, you can always regift, she noted.

Fight off stress

Don't forget the mind-body connection. "Managing stress in an important piece," Stout said. By increasing your body's cortisol, stress can be one of the biggest contributors to overeating and weight gain during the holidays. Sweet, starchy and buttery food cravings bring comfort and can trigger the release of chemicals such as serotonin in your brain.

But there are other ways to relieve that stress and find holiday joy.

Go for a walk. Take the kids sledding or to the pool. Schedule a ski day or snowshoe trip with friends or family. Take a nap. Listen to music. Take a yoga class. Put down your phone. Or better yet, turn it off. Prioritize a good night's sleep. Laugh more. And breathe.

Stout also urges finding ways to improve the lives of others. "Reach out to the elderly or people who have lost a family member or friend. Teach children about giving time and resources to others."

It makes us feel better about ourselves, sets an example and "helps us manage the holidays better," she said. Acts of kindness can inadvertently reduce stress and the waistline while serving as a good reminder the holiday spirit goes beyond eating, drinking and opening presents.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.