How to Lose Weight — Surviving Holiday Dinners: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

weight loss tips, holiday dieting


It is time for that annual ritual of gluttony known as The Holiday Dinner. The meals when millions of overweight people believe they don’t have to be held accountable for what they eat. With no attempt to control themselves, they will overeat their daily caloric intake by an estimated three thousand calories and won’t stop until the last piece of apple pie has found the only unoccupied spot in their overstuffed stomachs. (Full Disclosure: I used to be one of them)

Is there any hope?

Yes there is! Here are 5 Fast Facts you need to know to survive Holiday Dinner:

1. You Can Protect Yourself in the Days Before the Big Eat

fasting diet

Countdown to the big meal.

When you know that you have a huge holiday meal coming up, it is a good idea to cut back a little on what you eat in the days prior. Even with a modest attempt to eat less, you will be doing yourself a big favor.

Try skipping high calorie foods and restricting treats for a week or so. Your body has an internal calorie savings bank and will keep track of your good work. Then you won’t be as bad off when you really overdo it on the big night.

Furthermore, who knows? You might even end up eating less at the function.

Where you can go wrong: Even with a strong head start going into the meal, don’t use that as an excuse to go wild afterwards. Your careful eating will only give you a small reserve of calories saved.

2. Don’t Fast for the Feast


The big feast is coming — get prepared.


On the day of the big meal it is important to make sure you eat your normal meals during the day.

Don’t fast for the feast!

The common misconception is that by skipping breakfast and lunch, you can “save” your calories for later. However, if you do that, you will be over-hungry when you arrive. The reflex will be to eat every hors D’oeuvre in sight: potato chips, onion dip, eggnog, pigs in the blanket and more. Even worse, dinner hasn’t even started yet.

A much better plan is to eat lightly during the day: perhaps some oatmeal for breakfast and a salad for lunch with a scoop of tuna. That will take the edge off of your appetite and you will be less out of control when dinner time comes.

Where you can go wrong: Be careful to not overdo it prior to dinner. It’s one thing to have a small, satisfying breakfast and lunch and quite another to snack all day.

3. Don’t Go Crazy When You Arrive

diet, weight loss

Lining up your appetizers. (Flickr/Moresheth)

This is the most important moment. It sets the tone for the entire evening.

DO NOT walk in, grab the first food you see and hold it between your teeth while shrugging off your jacket.

DO walk in, hand off your jacket, greet friends and family and then slowly ease into the drinks and appetizers.

It is important to pace yourself and not let your hunger overwhelm you. That’s why you were not supposed to skip breakfast or lunch, so that you won’t be out of control when you arrive.

Where you can go wrong: It is so easy to let yourself go and start over-eating as soon as you arrive. You can try to justify it to yourself. But you’re wrong. Watch normal-weight people and see what they do.

4. You Can Do Yourself a Favor by Taking a Plate


not dietetic

Pigs in a Blanket aren’t dietetic (Flickr/anokarina)

The worst thing you can do is stand over a serving dish like the potato chip bowl and grab handful after handful. It leads to over-consumption because you have no idea how many you have eaten.

A MUCH better plan is to take a plate, preferably a small one, and put some food on it. Even if you fill up the plate and go back for seconds and thirds, you will end up eating less than free-range grazing.

Where you can go wrong: Even small tidbits can pack a lot of calories. Pigs in blankets have about 80 calories each. If you grab five of them you just grabbed 400 calories. Go back for five more and you are already up to 800! Eggnog, tasty as it is, packs a punch of 120-200 calories for just four ounces. Other delicious but dangerous appetizers to be careful with: cheese and crackers, onion dip, and fried mozzarella.

Go slow on the calorie-dense food.

5. Dinnertime Is the Hardest Time

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Holiday dinner plate. (Flickr/Ruth Hartnup)

Assume that the food is served family-style. Plates are passed around the table and you serve yourself. If you haven’t made an entire meal out of your hors d’oeuvres then you are pretty hungry right now.

However, at this critical moment you have a good chance to take control in a way that will make a huge difference in your total damage for the day. Without sacrificing quantity either.

  • Serve yourself less food than you think you will want.
    Why? Because when you take a lot of food you feel obligated to eat it all. You can always ask for seconds.
  • Focus on lean protein: turkey, ham, roast beef.
    Why? Protein is more filling and has fewer calories. Also, since it takes longer to digest it will leave you satisfied longer.
  • Minimize high calorie, fat-laden foods and pick a replacement.
  • Gravy: Bad. Ketchup, mustard, cranberry sauce: Good. If you have a choice, use the natural gravy instead of a prepared one.
  • Mashed Potatoes: Bad, deceptively so. Sweet potato casserole: Better. Baked potato: Good.
  • Buttered rolls: Fair, as long as you don’t overdo the butter.
  • Stuffing: Fair. The stove top is marginally better than the stuffing from the bird.
  • Vegetables: Good to bad depending on the preparation. Sautéed is bad, steamed is excellent. Of course, no one goes to a holiday dinner to fill up on steamed string beans!

Where you can go wrong: At some point, your willpower can get overwhelmed and then you stop caring. Don’t give in! Maintain a little vigilance and you can get out of this night with your dignity intact. You don’t have to deprive yourself, just don’t lose control.

Bonus – Dessert Time Can Be Even Harder

Holiday Dessert Extravaganza (Flickr/APlum)

Holiday Dessert Extravaganza (Flickr/APlum)

The final test of resolve. Hopefully by dessert time, you are full enough that you don’t need anything else.

However, in the next ten minutes if you are not careful you might consume more calories than in the rest of the night put together.

In a word, dessert is treacherous. Ice cream, cake and pie are so easy and pleasant to eat that even when you are virtually bursting you still have some room for these super-high-calorie treats. This is the time to hold back, take just a small amount and skip seconds.

Where you can go wrong: Cookies are 50-100 calories each, depending on size. A small sliver of pumpkin pie is a remarkable 250-300 calories. A single serving of ice cream is 150-250 calories. That would be four ounces. Not whatever fits on your plate.