The holiday season is a time for festive gatherings with family and friends. It is also the time of year when we see tempting treats everywhere we turn.
"Weight gained during the holidays often comes from eating foods that are high in sugar and fat. The good news is that you can still enjoy these special occasions as long as you use a bit of restraint and keep yourself from indulging too much," says Joan Daniels, a dietitian at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Daniels and fellow Cancer Center dietitian Nancy Burke offer the following tips to help you enjoy the holiday season while keeping a balanced and healthy diet.
>Don't go hungry to a holiday event. Eat a snack or light meal before you leave. Foods high in protein -- like cottage cheese, nuts, or chicken -- help you eat less later. Fasting ahead of time, leaving room for a big meal, or planning extra trips to the buffet table often leads to overeating.
>Fill up on fiber. Choose appetizers that will help you meet the recommended guideline of five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day.
>Eat smaller portions of food. This is especially important at a buffet, where you may want to try everything. Instead, choose the items you want to try the most and eat a small portion of each.
>Pace, don't race. Many times, people eat so fast that their stomachs do not have enough time to register they're full. Eat slower, savoring each bite and enjoying the taste of the food; chances are you will eat less and not overeat.
>Limit fast food. Don't let a hectic holiday schedule force you to rely on eating fast food often. Prepare and freeze quick healthy meals ahead of time to stay out of the fast food trap.
>Offer to take a low-calorie dish to holiday parties. Your host will appreciate it, and you will know that at least one healthy item will be available. (Find suggestions at the University of Michigan recipe database: mcancer.org/recipes.)
>Be realistic. Do not try to diet during the holidays. Set a goal to maintain your present weight.
>Watch what you drink during the holidays. Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink may help prevent a number of cancers. Regular eggnogs and other drinks made with syrups contain a high amount of calories. Try flavored, calorie-free waters, sparkling apple or grape juice, low-sodium vegetable juices, or hot cider instead.
>Physical activity. Look for ways to incorporate some daily physical activity during the holidays. Enjoy a brisk walk -- either outside or at an indoor mall. Exercise can be a huge stress reliever.