Dealing with diet over the holidays


It’s a mixed blessing. You look forward to holiday parties and going out to eat, but you know there’s a price to pay. But believe it or not, it is possible to go out and celebrate the holidays without totally giving up on your diet.

“The fact is, people on the Island are likely to be just as busy socially, if not more, in July and August as they are in the holiday season,” said Mary Gross, registered dietitian at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

“But since it’s the holidays,” Gross said, “people give themselves permission to eat a lot of cookies and cake, and gaining weight becomes a self-fulling prophecy.”

Gross said that planning is the most important thing people can do to control their diet. She recommends keeping a food diary to avoid just eating randomly throughout the day, which makes it difficult to control one’s eating habits.

“If you have a muffin every morning and ice cream every night,” Gross said, “and you’re having a weight issue, the answer is right there in your diary in black and white.” Monitoring your food intake throughout the year is important, Gross says, but it’s particularly important over the holidays.

“Let’s say you’re going to eat roughly 21 meals a week,” Gross says. “You should allow yourself some flexibility. Give yourself two or three meals where you can go a little off-track.” This is particularly good advice around the holidays because it gives you permission to indulge yourself from time to time, knowing you’ll be back on track the next day.

Having said that, Gross says she does have a few tips for holiday eating. First of all, don’t go to a party when you’re starving — that’s tantamount to going grocery shopping when you’re hungry. “And if you’re asked to bring a dish,” Gross says, “make sure you can bring something healthy you can snack on.”

Another tip is to know when you’re full. Rather than just continue to eat, step back for a while. Sometimes it takes a few moments to realize that you’ve had enough to eat. Also, rather than just go to a party and graze endlessly, make yourself a plate of food and stay with that.

“When you’re baking for the holidays,” Gross said, “it might be a good idea to bake in the morning, when you’re not as hungry, rather than bake in the evening, when you’re more likely to eat raw cookie dough.” If you bake in the morning, she suggests, store the dough in the freezer, where you are less likely to snack on it.

“Make a plan and stick to it,” says Gross, “that’s the most important thing you can do.”