Plan for holiday indulgences along with a healthy diet

Women at table sharing vegetables
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Halloween kicks off a three-month holiday period of eating and drinking that starts with trick-or-treat candy and ends with New Year’s festivities.

"From October to January 1, it just doesn't stop. And that, for a lot of us, presents lots of roadblocks," said registered dietitian Annessa Chumbley.

Paying attention to what you eat is critical if you want to avoid gaining the average three pounds that people gain over the holidays.

But staying healthy during the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate or even indulge a little as long as you plan ahead for meals that are healthy too.

Stick to your goals, but also “live in the moment," Chumbley said. "What we don't want to do is get in the destructive mindset of, 'It's the holidays, so I'm not going to abide by anything.'"

Focus on flavors you like best, while using moderation, to avoid totally losing sight of your diet goals.

“That way you can have the things that you want to enjoy in a small amount, then move on and not feel guilty," Chumbley said.

Be sure to make time for plenty of physical activity amid the holiday bustle to offset extra calories and remember to incorporate healthy habits year-round, Chumbley said.

"The problem isn't Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day," she said. "If we're getting Thanksgiving-full 365 days a year, that's what the issue is."

Here are some ways to enjoy holiday flavor without as many calories:

Have some, not all. Love pumpkin pie? Enjoy a slice, but don’t eat it all season long. Quench your craving with healthier options with the same pumpkin flavor like a pumpkin spice smoothie or homemade pumpkin pie granola. Or spoon canned pumpkin into Greek yogurt with toasted pecans, Chubmley suggested.

Keep the flavor, lose the calories. Crave eggnog? Rather than drinking the heavy cream-laden beverage, fill your glass mostly with low-fat or skim milk and add a small amount of eggnog to get that noggy flavor but with fewer calories. To warm up with a cup of cocoa, use low-fat or fat-free hot chocolate mixes with low-fat or nonfat milk or hot water.

Slow down your intake. Alternate cocktails with a glass of water or sparkling water to leave less time or room to overindulge.

Go leaner. Opting for the lighter pieces of turkey and removing the skin reduces fat and calories.  

Watch portions. Go ahead and indulge in holiday dressing to go with the turkey but limit it to about ¼ cup. Can’t resist pie? Try splitting your dessert with someone or try bite-sized or half-portions.

Read the label. When preparing holiday favorites, choose ingredients with lower sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. And use low-fat or nonfat milk instead of whole milk or heavy cream.

Make healthy swaps. Reduce sodium by replacing salt with herbs and spices. Replace butter with a healthier vegetable oil or substitute equal parts of unsweetened applesauce when baking. Add some whole grains to your baked items by using half wheat and half white flour.