From overflowing turkey buffets with all the sides to plate-loads of Christmas cookies at the office to New Year’s eve bubbly with friends, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is one of the hardest to get through without putting on a few extra pounds. If you are trying to lose weight, the holiday season is even harder. Add the rush of holiday shopping or late nights working for vacationing colleagues and it’s enough for many pre- and post-op weight loss surgery patients to say they’ll just put their weight loss goals on hold till January. Sound familiar?

But help is here. Whether you’re a pre-op gastric sleeve patient trying to lose a few pounds before surgery or post-op gastric bypass or LAP-BAND patient who’s trying to maintain your weight loss, you can still indulge in the holiday season. The key is to indulge wisely with these tips:

  1. Make a contract with yourself. Before sitting down to a holiday meal, write down your goals. Think carefully about how you will eat over the holidays and what you want to achieve. Are you still in an active weight loss period? Do you want to maintain your weight loss? Get specific. Sign and date the contract, put it on your refrigerator – and stick to it.
  2. Tackle the holiday buffet with finesse! When there are a dozen delightful looking dishes on the table, taking just one bite of each is enough to fill your plate –  twice! Take a look at ALL the items on the buffet before you put anything on your plate. Then once you decide what you really want to eat, add only those items. Make sure it’s just 2-3 items and it’s a well-balanced plate. You’ll eat less than if you take a little bit of everything.
  3. Revisit your old holiday standbys. Are they loaded with fat and calories? Why not start a new healthy tradition. Look for recipes that incorporate healthy ingredients to replace old standards, like this Couscous and chickpea stuffed peppers. http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/09/couscous-and-feta-stuffed-peppers/
  4. Size does matter! Eat off a smaller plate. Your plate will look fuller than if you used a larger dinner plate and you’ll be less likely to have to deal with people asking questions about why you’re not eating much.
  5. Location, location, location. Don’t stand for too long near the bar, appetizer table or buffet at parties. By working the room and avoiding these high-temptation zones, you not only reduce the chances of mindlessly eating and drinking, but you’ll have more time to catch up with friends or co-workers.
  6. Don’t leave home without it – a healthy snack, that is. The holiday season is filled with temptation at every turn, and it’s almost impossible to turn down that cookie if your stomach is growling. Pack some almonds or a cheese stick when you leave the house to run holiday errands or shop for food or gifts. It will help keep blood sugar stable and willpower strong.
  7. Drink smarter. Few things add up faster than calories from holiday cocktails. Because our brains don’t register liquid calories as food and alcohol lowers inhibitions, we often end up eating more as a result. Best bets at the bar include a 5-ounce glass of red wine, 12-ounce serving of beer or 1 ½ ounces of a clear liquor like whisky, vodka or gin mixed with club or diet soda. Each of these contains less than 120 calories. (For health reasons men should stick to a maximum of 2 alcoholic drinks per day, women no more than 1.)
  8. Cook smarter. Substitutions can make a big difference in calories without sacrificing taste. Bananas or applesauce make great stand-ins for oil, butter or margarine. Fat-free or lowfat yogurt can be used in place of sour cream and mayonnaise in dips and sauces.
  9. Rethink how you treat holidays. Not everything has to revolve around food! Play football after dinner, hike a trail at a local nature preserve or park or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Spend time with family and friends doing instead of eating and you’ll make memories without sacrificing your waistline.
  10. Be a realist, not an idealist. It’s unlikely most of us will make it from November until January without a single cookie or piece of pie passing our lips. Plan ahead for indulgences by choosing things that are truly worth it. For example the cheesecake your aunt only makes for Christmas or pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day. And then allow yourself only a forkful or two. By giving yourself permission to indulge guilt-free, you’re more likely to pass up those ho-hum chocolates at work.
  11. Move, move, move!  Exercising during the holiday season is so important because it helps relieve stress and acts as a natural appetite suppressant. While it’s not license to eat whatever you want, it can help reduce the impact of a few extra holiday calories. Aim for 30 minutes of vigorous activity 5 days a week.
  12. Be the last in line. The buffet and appetizer table look a lot less appealing once they’ve been picked over by hungry party guests.
  13. Eat before you party. Never show up at a party or event hungry. Starving yourself during the day will almost always lead to overeating later on so be sure to have balanced meals of protein, high-fiber carbohydrates and healthy fats before facing temptation.
  14. Doggie bags are a healthy eater’s best friend! If you host a holiday dinner or party, only keep the leftovers you’re planning to eat. Lean proteins, veggies and broth-based soups are healthy choices to reheat, so keep those around. Desserts, most side dishes and anything high calorie should be sent packing. So if you guest asks you what they can bring to your holiday gathering, tell them containers to bring home leftovers!
  15. Steer clear of the eggnog! Also punches, fruity cocktails, hot toddies and specialty holiday drinks. Liquid calories add up quickly. Substitute your favorite spiced tea blend (we like a nice pumpkin chai) or flavored coffee sweetened with stevia.
  16. Push away from food pushers. We all know them. The well-meaning mom or friend who pushes food on you. It usually starts with “You have to try the cake/potatoes/pasta.” White lies are OK here! Just tell them “I did and it was delicious!” Then change the subject. “Did you hear about that new movie/TV show/book?”
  17. Spice it up! Use herbs, spices, vinegar and citrus to add lots of flavor to savory dishes without added calories. Ginger, cinnamon, sage, cloves and rosemary are particularly delicious this time of year.
  18. Bring a healthy dish to the dinner or potluck. Volunteer to make a salad, veggie dish or lightened-up dessert. Not only will you have something you can safely enjoy, but other health conscious guests will appreciate it too.
  19. Stay hydrated! Caffeinated coffee, tea and alcoholic drinks are all diuretics, meaning they cause our bodies to excrete water. Even mild dehydration can masquerade as feelings of hunger, so be sure to drink hydrating beverages throughout the day such as water, unsweetened decaf tea or sparkling water.
  20. Harness the power of peppermint. Mint isn’t just for candy canes this time of year. Pop a piece of sugarless mint gum, brush your teeth or sip some peppermint tea. Research indicates a minty flavor helps send the brain an “I’m full” signal.

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