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How to Navigate the Pitfalls of the Holiday Binge

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

It’s that time of year. Parties are in full swing. Cozy sweaters are fair game. And the temptation to indulge is everywhere—from prime rib and potatoes to eggnog and sweet treats. That’s why we called on Heather Bauer. Not only is she a nationally recognized nutrition expert, bestselling author and entrepreneur, but she’s also a registered dietitian who’s helped thousands of people reach their weight loss goals. Most recently, it’s been through her clean eating program, The Food Fix. Here, Heather offers her best suggestions for making the right choices during the holiday season.

Navigating an at-home holiday feast can be challenging. Which dishes are the healthiest?

A huge part of being successful during the holiday season is paying attention to your level of activity and what you’re eating when you’re not celebrating (parties are typically only two-four hours of your day). Make sure you exercise daily and drink six-eight cups of water by 3 p.m. to help offset the extra sodium you’ll be consuming. And always save your carbohydrate for whatever event you’re attending. 

As far as what to do once you’re at the party, remember to be strategic. Wait at least 45 minutes before you go for your first bite of food. The longer you wait to “break your seal,” the more success you’ll have. When building your plate, try to make it 75% veggies and 25% protein. Skip the potatoes, rice and pasta, because if you want to indulge in a cocktail or two, that will be your carb for the evening. Dishes to look for are string beans, sautéed spinach, roasted turkey, baked salmon and shrimp cocktail. 

If you’re the host, send any not-so-healthy leftovers home with your guests, or keep cute to-go containers as a gift for your neighbors.

Which dishes are best to avoid?

Avoid anything “pop-able, pick-able, dip-able or nonstop-able.” This means nuts, cheese plate, spinach and artichoke dip, and even crudité, because once you start picking, it’s hard to curtail. Stick to the “four napkin rule”—fill up three to four napkins' worth of appetizers throughout the party and then stop. If it’s a full dinner, it’s best to use only one plate and make that your meal. Other traditional holiday foods to avoid include Swedish meatballs (typically made with bread, butter and heavy cream—they can be up to 400 calories for one meatball), eggnog (1 cup is 350 calories!), prime rib (fattiest part of the cow), pecan pie, fruit cake and candied yams to name a few. Also, watch out for seasonal drinks like Starbucks’ peppermint mocha (a grande has 540 calories and 76 grams of sugar).

The truth is, it’s okay to enjoy a cookie or two without guilt or share Christmas morning pancakes with the family—whatever you feel is worth it. Just eat mindfully and with gratitude and move on.

What about when you’re dining out for a holiday meal?

When you are dining out for a holiday meal, always check in advance to see if there’s a menu available online so you can make a few healthy selections before you get to the restaurant. Fish (that’s not fried), roasted chicken and green vegetables are usually reliable, as long as you skip the heavy sauce. We tend to eat better when we feel good about ourselves, so getting a blowout, wearing something special (even a little more fitted—nothing like that for motivation) can help. 

'Tis the season to be merry, which often means drinking more alcoholic beverages. What are your best tips for navigating liquor consumption?

First and foremost, avoid sugary cocktails (like that punch that goes down like water). It’s also important to pick a drink you like but don’t love. For example, if you love wine and drink it quickly, it may be smarter to order something you don’t care for as much like vodka/soda/fresh squeezed lime. The key is to pick something you’ll only want to sip. And, before you have your second drink, try to have a glass of water. This will keep you hydrated and help with a potential hangover the next day. 

For those who love to cook, any suggestions for keeping things on the lighter side?

By substituting certain ingredients, you can make your favorite treats gluten-free, paleo-friendly or vegan, depending on your dietary needs.

Instead of 1 cup of white flour, use: 

  • 1 cup pureed black beans in brownies.
  • 1/3 cup of coconut flour (plus an extra egg per ounce of coconut flour and a dash of water) in pancakes, cookies and cakes.
  • 1 cup of nut flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder or soda in cookies, sweetbreads and cakes.
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour in anything.

Instead of 1 cup of sugar, use: 

  • 1 cup of unsweetened apple sauce in almost anything, including oatmeal cookies.
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid stevia or 2 tablespoons of powdered stevia in cookies, cakes and sweetbreads.
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla (per 2 tablespoons of sugar) in cookies, cakes, sweetbreads and brownies.

Instead of 1 cup of butter or oil, use:  

  • 1 cup of pureed avocado in chocolate cookies and brownies. 
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce and 1/2 cup of fat (butter or oil) in any sweet bread or muffins. 
  • 2-3 tablespoons of chia seeds and 1 cup of water (let sit for 15 minutes) in muffins, cakes and breads. 
  • 1 cup of mashed banana in brownies or cookies.

Instead of 1 egg, use: 

  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 1 cup of water (let sit for 15 minutes) in muffins, cakes and cookies.
  • 1 tablespoon of flax meal and 3 tablespoons of water (let sit for 10 minutes) in muffins, cakes and cookies.

You founded The Food Fix, a healthy eating plan designed to help people succeed in the real world. Tell us more!

Yes! After running a successful private practice in New York City for many years, I realized that an online component would allow me to help a wider scope of clients. For some people, working with me in person was either cost-prohibitive, or they simply couldn’t find time in their day to get to my office. It was then that the idea for The Food Fix started percolating and, ultimately, growing into the amazing program it is today. It’s also a great option for those who love working in a group environment (FoodFix.Me). That said, I did recently open an office in Westport to service the clients who still prefer the private experience (HeatherBauer.com).

Roast Beef, Baked Ham or Brisket?

Baked Ham. It’s the leanest protein of the three. 

Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes or Potato Latkes?

Baked sweet potato, unless it’s candied!

String beans, Brussels sprouts or creamed corn?

String beans and Brussels sprouts are both excellent options.

Wine, Vodka or Eggnog?

Wine or vodka, depending on which you like less and which you’ll drink the slowest. While wine can be heart-healthy, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking when your glass is constantly being re-filled.

Christmas cake, Christmas pudding or Chanukah gelt?

Chanukah gelt. You can have one piece and be done!

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