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5 Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating

Sweetness in Practice Contributor - Nov 10, 2015

Office parties, family get-togethers and almost anything you do this time of year to ring in the season often involves food. And, to make matters worse, festive cocktails flow freely, so patients may be consuming more alcohol this time of year, which can make it even more difficult to stay on track. Fortunately, there are steps we can encourage our patients to take to help set them up for success. Here’s a look at some of the strategies I’ve found to be most effective when counseling patients on healthier holiday eating.

1. Set Up Self-Monitoring Strategies

Encourage use of online trackers, “wearable devices,” or other self-monitoring tools to help keep patients on track. Studies suggest that tracking health behaviors (e.g., food and beverage intake, daily steps) can provide extra motivation patients may need to help them meet their daily targets1. By making patients accountable for their actions via regular monitoring tools, it is more likely they will adhere to their weight loss program.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine supports the positive impact of self-monitoring tools. The study looked at 51 post-menopausal women with a BMI >25 and found that those who used a FitBit (with its mobile app) significantly increased time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity, as well as average steps taken daily, compared to those provided a standard pedometer with no online tracking who did not see significant changes in activity2. Encourage patients to take advantage of free apps and online sites that allow them to track diet and activity levels, as this can help patients visualize their progress, and how small changes can add up over time.

2. Set Limits Around Alcohol

Since the most wonderful time of year may also be the booziest for some patients, alcohol can be another contributor to holiday weight gain. In fact, an 8-ounce pour of the festive holiday classic, eggnog, can set patients back 350 to 400 calories – and that’s before the meal has even started. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 percent of women ages 18 – 44 and more than 60 percent of adult men drink alcohol. And among those drinkers, some 15 percent of women and nearly 25 percent of men report unhealthy binge drinking behaviors3,4.

When it comes to nutrition, alcoholic beverages are essentially empty calories, and have been shown in several studies to stimulate one’s appetite, while reducing self-control. Therefore, working with your patients to develop strategies to minimize alcohol consumption during the holidays is essential to help keep calories in check4,5. Start by educating patients as to what a standard drink is (e.g., 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor), and reinforce that public health recommendations are to limit a standard drink to 1 per day for women, and 2 drinks per day for men. Additionally, since many patients may be unaware of the possible appetite-stimulating effects of alcohol, further explaining this mechanism may provide additional motivation to avoid or limit alcoholic drinks.

3. Help Rehab Recipes

For many patients, the holidays symbolize a time to enjoy traditional dishes that have been passed down among family members for generations. Consider providing patients with alternative ingredients or techniques to use in their recipes to help lighten up the fat and calorie content or increase nutrient content of their favorite dishes. Some common healthier substitutions I recommend include substituting whole wheat flour for some of the white flour, cutting back on butter and using plant-based oil when possible, and reducing sugar by using Truvía® Brown Sugar Blend and Truvía® Cane Sugar Blend in place of regular brown sugar and table sugar in recipes. Just 12 cup of Truvía® Brown Sugar Blend or Truvía® Cane Sugar Blend provides the same sweetness as one cup of brown sugar or regular sugar, with 75 percent fewer calories per serving than sugar.

4. Encourage Frequent Weigh-Ins

While the media likes to say that individuals often gain 10 pounds during the holiday season, the published scientific literature suggests that the average weight gain is actually just over 1 pound6. However, the problem with this holiday weight gain is that many people never lose it, and it may account for the majority of the weight an individual gains over the course of a year. Encouraging clients to step on the scale weekly, or even more frequently, is a sound strategy that has been gaining more support. In fact, a recent study found that subjects who weighed themselves daily lost about 20 pounds in six months, compared to 7 pounds lost among those who stepped on the scale less frequently.

5. Discuss Sleep and Stress Management

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for many patients, and working with them to develop coping measures (other than reaching for food or alcohol) may help them survive the holidays without adding on pounds. When working with patients, be sure to discuss the role of optimal sleep, maintaining regular physical activity, and the importance of realistic time-management for a more stress-free holiday season.

This holiday season encourage patients to shift their focus away from food and drink, and towards time spent with family and friends, festive get-togethers, relaxation, and time off from work. Help your patients see the holidays not as an excuse to indulge; rather inspire them to embrace what’s most important – tradition, family, and giving back to the community.

To learn more about how Truvía® sweetener can play a useful role in a healthy balanced diet, click here. »


  1. Raaijmakers LC, Pouwels S, Berghuis KA, Nienhuijs SW. Technology-based interventions in the treatment of overweight and obesity: A systematic review. Appetite. 2015 Dec 1;95:138-51. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.008.

  2. Cadmus-Bertram LA, Marcus BH, Patterson RE, et al. Randomized Trial of a Fitbit-Based Physical Activity Intervention for Women. Am J Prev Med. 2015 Sep;49(3):414-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.01.020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women. Edited 19 November 2014. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-heal...

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health. Edited 19 November 2014. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mens-health...

  5. Eiler W, Džemidžić JA, Case M, et al.The apéritif effect: Alcohol’s effects on the brain’s response to food aromas in women. Obesity. 2015 23: 1386–1393. doi: 10.1002/oby.21109

  6. Yeomans MR. Alcohol, appetite and energy balance: is alcohol intake a risk factor for obesity? Physiol Behav. 2010 Apr 26;100(1):82-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.01.012.

  7. Schoeller DA.The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiol Behav. 2014 Jul;134:66-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.03.018.

  8. Steinberg DM, Bennett GG, Askew S, et al. Weighing Every Day Matters: Daily Weighing Improves Weight Loss and Adoption of Weight Control Behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Apr;115(4):511-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.011.