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Holiday Eating Tips

What will work for our patients?

Earlier this year, this column focused on healthy and normal weight and how to advise patients about weight maintenance. Now that the holiday season is upon us, we can focus further on how to help patients avoid gaining weight over the next month.

When speaking with patients, it's important to remember that weight loss during a season of parties and other gatherings may not occur. Weight maintenance during the holiday season is something that's realistic and should be encouraged. Adherence to feasible goals now will ensure that patients can look toward the New Year with real hope for weight loss success. Most patients will embark on resolutions for lowered weight and better health in general. I prefer to encourage patients to think of New Year's weight loss and health goals as intentions, but we'll save that topic for January.

I recently polled members of the Weight Management Dietetics Practice Group of the American Dietetics Association for their holiday eating tips. Read on to find out what they had to say.

Tips from the professionals

An RD who is also a certified diabetes educator and personal trainer, points out that "The reason for the holiday is not to stuff yourself!" She suggests reflecting on the true meaning of the holiday and enjoying the time together with family and friends.

Encourage patients to make food secondary and start the holiday with exercise. Many communities have 5K walks or runs near or on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Encourage patients to sign up the whole family. Alternatively, patients can get the entire family out for a walk, sledding or to kick a football or soccer ball around.

Encourage patients to keep self-scheduled appointments to exercise three to four times per week. This is imperative to weight maintenance during times when added calories from food and drink are generally consumed.

Nan Allison, a master's prepared dietitian from Tennessee, shared a comment from a patient who is a recovering compulsive overeater: "Look to thrive during the holidays." Her patient went on suggest that seeking simply to survive the holiday season is not helpful, nor is food avoidance a chore.

Encourage patients to keep holiday eating fun, and to maintain a balance between the mind and body. Discuss hunger cues and satiety and how they can help keep eating in control. Ask patients to keep records of what they are eating, preferably for one weekend day and two weekdays. This can be eye opening - and it's an accountable approach. Free programs such as or can help patients keep within a daily calorie range for weight maintenance.

Susan Maume is a registered dietetic technician from Virginia who firmly believes in recommending the following: "With some forethought, you can enjoy the holidays and keep a healthy perspective." She counsels her patients to eat smaller, frequent meals throughout the day before a dinner party. She also recommends eating a healthy, filling snack an hour or so before an event so that hunger won't tempt a patient to eat high-calorie foods. Maume advises her patients to choose bite-sized servings of desserts, if available, and to fill up on fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods  at the buffet. Of course, don't visit the buffet table more than once! Lastly, she suggests that when alcohol is consumed, mix it with low-calorie beverages such as water.

The inevitable dinner party

Suggest to patients that when they attend a dinner party or a buffet-type event, they should avoid filling their plate. Also, remind them of the plate rule: half should be filled with fruits and or vegetables, a quarter should be filled with proteins (about the size of a deck of cards), and a quarter should be filled with carbohydrates (about the size of your fist). If possible, ask for double servings of vegetables instead of carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta or rice. Although rice, pasta and potatoes should still be included in healthy eating, vegetables are a rich source of carbohydrates as well. For the patient who is intent on enjoying dessert, filling up on more vegetables can save calories.

When patients host dinner parties, here are a few more key recommendations to decrease calories and increase fun:

  • Prepare only some of the meal ahead of time. This creates time for guests to help finish dinner preparations. They can see what goes into the cooking and add their own touches to create healthier fare.
  • Use place cards around the table to facilitate discussion and focus the holiday on relationships. Focus on the people around you rather than the food on your plate.
  • Include a walk before, during or after a holiday gathering. If time and space allow, create room for dancing or games to get people moving.
  • Enjoy!

Here's to raising a glass, whether it's champagne or sparkling water, to all the energy we put into working with our patients over the holidays and throughout the year. May we all experience the joy of the season while helping our patients maintain their weight and health goals. See you in 2011.

Robyn Kievit is a family nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian, and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. She operates a private nutrition practice in Boston and is on staff at Emerson College. E-mail your nutrition and weight loss questions to or visit her website at On Facebook and Twitter, search for nutritionmentor.



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