Eat, Drink, & Be Wary 

How to beat the holiday bulge.

Ah, the holiday season: gifts and parties, decorations, those helpful retail clerks ... and often that extra poundage that comes from the cookies, cheese, and eggnog.

"People gain, on average, a pound over the holidays," says Alissa Villarrubia, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist. "It can be up to five pounds in those who significantly overeat. It may not seem like a lot of weight, but research shows that people aren't losing it throughout the year. Over the course of many years, that one pound can add up."

The main culprit of weight gain? Your friends. The old "everyone else is doing it" rings especially true during the holidays. That fabulous buffet spread everyone is gathered around? It would be rude not to partake. And everybody is going for one more round at the bar, so you might as well too.

While no one wants to be a Grinch, you definitely don't want to be an oversized Cindy Loo Who.

Read on for some practical ways to beat the holiday-binge bulge.

Downsize: Use a smaller plate. "The bigger your plate and the more food that's on it, the more you're likely to eat in the end," Villarrubia says. You might feel like you aren't finished until your plate is empty rather than when your stomach is full.

Work It: Maintain your exercise routine or start a new one. Time is limited during the holidays, but one of the best ways to combat stress is exercise. So, make time to get outside, take a walk, or run around with your kids.

In Your Cups: Watch out for extra calories in your favorite holiday drinks. You might think eggnog is the drink of champions, because of all those raw eggs you are chugging. Unfortunately, it's not made with raw eggs anymore, and the sugar and cream aren't body-building-friendly, unless you want the marshmallow look.

Live a Little: The important thing is to splurge sparingly. Don't make a vow to not eat one single dessert all holiday season. You will fail. Instead, make a goal of eating dessert only two or three times a week.

Take Some Creative Liberty: Just because your grandmother's recipe for gravy calls for enough salt and fat to make Ronald McDonald cringe doesn't mean you can't make a few changes. Consider cutting all the butter and fat measurements in half. You won't notice. Experiment with spices and herbs and cut out excess salt. Cut down the sugar in your recipes by only using three-fourths of a cup for every cup called for in the recipe or use a sugar replacement.

Portion Control: Keep your portions under control. Don't eat until you are stuffed; eat until you are full. (Yes, there is a difference!) Villarrubia recommends eating a healthy snack before going to a holiday party.

Visit the Food Pyramid: Many holiday dinners are designed around meat and starch, but consider adding in a few colorful vegetable dishes. Choose foods high in fiber but low in calories. For example, go for the veggies and lean meats rather than the heavy dips and desserts.

RECIPES:

Asparagus with Roasted Shallots and Cranberry Vinaigrette

Toss 10 shallots and 2 pounds asparagus (tough ends trimmed) in:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Pour vegetables into a baking dish. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Drizzle with cranberry vinaigrette:

1/4 cup cranberry juice

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives or parsley

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Salt and pepper, to taste

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Carrots, Red Peppers, Rice, and Capers

2 small acorn squash

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups long grain rice

4 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided

2 cups baby carrots

1 large red pepper, sliced

1 small red onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic

2 Tbsp capers, drained

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash in half; remove seeds and pulp. Place into baking dish filled halfway with water. Sprinkle squash with salt, pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until squash flesh is soft.

Meanwhile, place rice and 4 cups chicken broth into saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Let rice simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place baby carrots, red pepper, red onion, garlic, and 1/2 cup chicken broth into food processor. Blend until puréed. Add puréed vegetables and capers to cooked rice; mix.

Remove squash from oven; drain water from pan. Spoon vegetable and rice mixture evenly into each squash half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for another 10-15 minutes.

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