We're halfway through December, that special month where many of us throw caution to the wind and approach the upcoming holidays like it's a guilt-free, food-and-drink laden buffet table.
Make no mistake about it -- our healthy eating resolve will be mightily tested with all those delicious homemade cookies, rivers of eggnog and boxes of chocolates appearing like magic everywhere.
But -- just like the ghost of Christmas Past has a nasty habit of suddenly appearing to remind us of past deeds, so will the foods we thought we could indulge in guilt-free come bite us in the new year.
Let's face it -- December's certainly a delicious time, but a tough one, too, especially for those bravely watching their diet.
In the spirit of the season, here are eight suggestions to guide you through the next few weeks:
PLAN AHEAD: Make a game plan before you leave home so you'll have some control over what and how much you eat. When you arrive at a cocktail party, walk around the room and see what foods are being passed so you can pick and choose more carefully. If you are going out to a restaurant, check their menu online and decide ahead of time what you will order. And, never arrive hungry. A latte, a piece of fruit, a cracker with cheese or yogurt before you leave can take the edge off your appetite.
EAT MINDFULLY: At a buffet, take a small plate, put a few things on it, walk away from the table and then eat. If they are passing appetizers, take one at a time and eat it slowly. Don't stand too close to the bowl of nuts, chips or other nibbles. At a dinner, enjoy the conversation, put your fork down between bites and chew well -- you'll really taste your food and will likely eat less. And, if there is still food on your plate, your hostess is less likely to offer seconds.
EVERYDAY IS NOT A HOLIDAY: In a month of 31 days, there are lots of days when you won't be at a party or special event. Use those times to eat healthy meals in keeping with your nutritional goals. And, since it is a busy month, do a bit of planning so there's lots of good stuff in your fridge and cupboards to make those healthy meals more accessible .
CHOOSE WISELY: Pick the lower fat or healthier options at parties. Some examples: a piece of sushi (40 cals) instead of a sausage roll (80 cals) or spring roll (90 cals); a skewer of chicken (50 cals) instead of a fried chicken wing (90 cals); 2 fresh shrimp with cocktail sauce (30 cals) instead of 2 spanokopitas (145 cals); salsa (less than 10 cals) instead of sour cream dip (65 cals); 20 pretzel sticks (45 cals) instead of 1/4 cup nuts (220 cals).
STRATEGIES FOR WORK: If there's a potluck at the office, bring one of your most delicious, healthy dishes. If your co-worker's desk is loaded with chocolates and other treats, take a different route that bypasses her desk when you are walking around the office. Keep some healthy snacks in your desk drawer to nibble on. If holiday stress has spilled over to work, go for a walk or a workout rather than succumbing to the truffles in the lunch room. If you receive boxes of candy, regift them before you unwrap and try.
BE A THOUGHTFUL HOST: You don't have to lighten up everything you cook, but do it where it keeps the flavor high but the calories a bit lower. For example, make your turkey stuffing with whole wheat bread crumbs and lots of vegetables and fruit, use low fat yogurt or mayo for your dips or use low fat milk in your eggnog, if you are making a buffet dish such as lasagna, use some low fat cheese and cut it into smaller squares for portion control. For dessert, besides your traditional cookies or squares, put out some clementines or a platter of fruit. Cut your dessert squares into small pieces or make smaller cookies. And, if you have lots of leftovers, send each guest home with a doggy bag.
SNEAK IN A WORKOUT: Go for a long walk, take a Pilates class, go skating (the rink at Nathan Phillips Square is beautiful right now!), if there's snow go cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Exercise is great for stress and to burn off some holiday calories.