Experts' tips for healthy eating during the holidays

  • Article by: PRUE SALASKY , Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 3:19 PM

Mindfulness, planning and recipe adaptation can all help.

Try stuffing made from turkey sausage instead of bread.

Photo: Matthew Mead, Associated Press

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The holiday season can be a minefield for those who battle with weight issues.

At a November support group for surgical weight-loss patients -- and those considering the surgery -- Debra Vaccaro, a dietitian and registered nurse, cautioned participants about healthy eating at the holidays.

She invited the 18 or so participants at the Center for Weight Loss Success in Newport News, Va., to be mindful when eating. She urged them not to multi-task, but to remove all distractions, including the TV, phone and computer, and to focus entirely on the food. To practice mindfulness, she had them take a piece of a nutrition bar, examine it, smell it and then place a piece on the tongue to savor the taste. Then she advised pausing between bites and reminded them that it takes 20 minutes for the body to determine that it's satisfied.

Using strategies such as this can result in eating at least one-third less and making food more enjoyable, she said. Vaccaro advised applying similar strategies to other everyday activities, such as walking, allowing time to cultivate awareness and take in one's surroundings.

For the holidays, she urged her audience to have "a coping plan." One strategy is to make a list of every reason why you want to lose weight, and read it to yourself every morning. When you're tempted to eat something you hadn't planned, then read the list again, she said. She recommended the book "The Beck Diet Solution" by Judith Beck for self-help tips.

For each event, individuals need to have a plan in advance, she advised. They should prioritize, limiting themselves to the three foods they love the most, pre-determining how many courses they'll try, then limiting portions at each course. "The key is to put parameters on how much you will consume," she said.

Vaccaro brought up the subject of "food pushers," those who try to guilt guests into trying a pie or taking an extra helping to show appreciation. She urged firm rejection: "Just say 'no' over and over again. You are protecting your good health."

Participants chimed in with their own suggestions. "Change your recipes. No one will notice," suggested one, who now makes her still-popular mac-and-cheese with skim milk, whole-wheat pasta and low-fat cheese. Others suggested substitutions, such as pureed cauliflower, whey protein and applesauce in place of less healthy carbs and fats. One noted that her revamped stuffing recipe, made with turkey sausage, mushrooms, sage, celery and onions was a huge hit with her work colleagues. "Nobody even noticed that there was no bread," she said.

For those who have had bariatric surgery, it's important to maintain intake of essential nutrients and ensure their effective absorption. The recommended ratio of protein to carbohydrates is 2:1, surgeon Dr. Thomas Clark told the group. He explained how much protein a body needs for weight maintenance and that men, and those doing intense workouts, need more. He also distinguished between simple proteins, such as whey, which are rapidly absorbed, and the more complex proteins in meat that the body takes longer to digest but uses more effectively. "It's not what you take in, it's what your body does with it," he said.

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