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Holiday Tips to Keep Your Weight Loss on Track

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It's holiday time and if you're following a weight-loss plan, there are three different approaches you can take for those festive mealtimes.

1. "Keep Your Eyes on the Ball" Approach: You're working hard to reach your goal weight. This year, you plan to buzz through the holidays with intense workouts, lots of lean turkey and plenty of veggies, and to skip the stuffing, potatoes and pie -- after all, you're almost there.

2. "It's Only One Day -- Let's Fall Off the Wagon" Approach: Start your holiday morning with a killer workout, enjoy a feast with reckless abandon and jump back on the wagon the next day with a killer overcompensating workout and an undercompensating menu for the day.

3. Middle-of-the-Road Approach: Embrace your new, healthy lifestyle -- enjoy many of the traditional trimmings of the day, but observe the portion sizes you've come to know and substitute some of the ingredients and cooking techniques of your traditional holiday fare with your new arsenal of healthy knowledge.

Whichever decision you make, I hope you'll savor every minute of it without guilt. Here are a few tips to help you sail through this holiday season:

  1. The first rule of thumb for holiday gatherings, especially if it's not at your house, is never go to the party hungry. Maintain your normal daily routine starting with breakfast and a workout. Have a snack before you go -- a half a sandwich, yogurt and fruit, or a glass of milk. Be sure when you arrive you aren't starving.
  2. If there's a buffet, plan your strategy before you step up to the table. Figure out how you want to approach the buffet table, if there is one.
  3. Try to remember that most of the food should be whole grains, fruits and vegetables; the remaining third can be lean meats. Fill up on veggies that aren't drenched in butter or sauce.
  4. If it's impossible to resist trying everything on Auntie Em's table, at least make sure you take very small "tastes," or small spoonfuls of high-calorie dishes.
  5. It's true that the time frame from Thanksgiving to the New Year isn't that long when viewed in the context of an entire year. And it's important to remember that a holiday is just one day, so it's okay to indulge yourself a little. Many people begin a downward spiral over the holidays, every year, beginning with Thanksgiving. One day of temptation leads to another, and before they know it, they've spiraled out of control by Christmas. Don't let that happen to you. Decide which approach you'll take this year -- ahead of time -- and stick to it. You don't have to be too hard on yourself and cut out all indulgences on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas. You've worked so hard this year, you deserve a few rewards -- just stick to smaller portions and get back on track on the next day.

If you're the designated chef, here are a few tips to help you in the kitchen:

Turkey

  • Use a rack to roast the turkey so the fat drips away from the bird.
  • If you're roasting a whole turkey, bake the stuffing in a casserole outside the bird. Stuffing baked inside the bird absorbs fat from the turkey.
  • If the stuffing calls for sauteed veggies such as celery, onions and mushrooms, use a nonstick pan to minimize the amount of oil required to cook them.
  • If you're using broth for stuffing or gravy, be sure to choose fat-free.
  • Use a fat separator to skim off all fat before making your gravy. This tool is easy to find in most stores. It looks like a liquid measuring cup, but the spout comes from the bottom of the cup so the fat stays behind as you pour the liquid (fat-free) from the bottom.

Pumpkin Pie or Sweet Potato Pie

  • Use cooked mashed sweet potato to substitute for pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe if you favor sweet potato over pumpkin.
  • Make pumpkin (or sweet potato) pies with canned, evaporated, skimmed milk. As much of the water has been "evaporated," the remaining milk is more concentrated -- rich and creamy and lower in calories and fat than regular evaporated milk.
  • Try to use half the amount of sweetener requested in the recipe, and if you have access, try using agave nectar as your sweetener (available at health food stores). Unlike sugar, it contains antioxidants. Yes it has calories, similar to those of honey, but it's natural and not artificial or chemically processed. Taste pie filling before baking to be sure it's sweet enough. Sometimes kicking up the sweet spices -- e.g., cinnamon, cloves, ginger, etc. -- by about 25 percent helps to stretch the flavor so the lesser amount of sweetener isn't as noticeable.
  • Substitute most or all of the whole eggs with egg whites.
  • Eat just the filling of the finished pie and skip the high-fat crust. Or if no one else minds, bake the filling in a springform pan without any crust at all.

Miscellaneous

  • Season vegetables with fresh herbs and low-sodium seasonings -- skip the butter.
  • Skip the dinner rolls; but if that's not an option for your family, buy whole-grain rolls.

Chef Cheryl RD is an author, James Beard award-winning chef and the nutritionist for NBC's The Biggest Loser. For more information and recipes, you can always find more nutrition and cooking tips at her website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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