How to avoid packing on the pounds during the holidays

Sharla Boothe
How to avoid packing on the pounds during the holidays

As we safely come together to celebrate the holidays, we are feeling a little bit of normalcy as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, but with more relaxed restrictions. Festivities are in full gear with family and friends hosting holiday parties that undoubtedly come complete with food high in sugar and fat, and that doesn’t even include cocktails! That’s not to say you can’t celebrate, but there is a way to do so without busting your belt!

Calorie counting can help keep off the holiday pounds

It was just a few weeks ago that many of us gathered around the table and celebrated Thanksgiving. While the holiday typically involves a wide variety of delicious dishes, the Calorie Control Council notes that a typical Thanksgiving dinner can pack as much as 4500 calories; that’s more than twice the calories a female should consume in one day. And, here’s a spoiler alert; when it comes to Christmas dinner, the calorie count jumps to 5,200, more than double that amount of calories a male should have in one day. As a result, holiday eating can lead to weight gain, and as a matter of fact, most people expect it to happen. A recent survey questioned 2000 people across the country, and 43 percent of them said they expect to gain 7 pounds over the holiday season.

So why the weight gain? Well, tasty holiday items are not calorie-free, and not to be a gourmet grinch, the reality is that a lot of what we like is just not the healthiest. For instance:

  • A cup of eggnog with whole milk and brandy packs over 430 calories
  • One-half cup of mixed nuts equates to 407 calories
  • One cup of cornbread stuffing has 355 calories
  • A piece of pecan pie (1/8 of a standard pie) has 456 calories

And the list goes on! However, being informed will help you get through the next few weeks, so here’s a little holiday quiz to see if you know healthier ways to prepare some of your favorite dishes. If you want to stick to the more traditional holiday goodies, pacing yourself is the best way to go, as you can hopefully avoid belt-busting by making wise choices.

Easy tips to healthy holiday eating

When going to a party, take the smart approach

  • Plan ahead by sticking to your regular eating routine to stabilize your blood sugar
  • If you are eating later than normal, have a small, healthy snack so that you don’t overeat at a party or during your meal
  • Eat vegetables first as that will ease hunger
  • Plate what you eat and use a small dinner plate as it will limit the amount of space for food
  • Slowly eat as it takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full
  • Watch your liquid intake as holiday drinks, and cocktails can pack a lot of calories

Replace holiday favorites with healthier alternatives

  • Candied yams are high in calories, so yank the yams and switch to sweet potatoes as one cup has only 100 calories.
  • The same goes for string bean casserole; it packs the calories. As an alternative, opt for fresh string beans.
  • Dessert is always a downfall, but a little indulgence is fine. Instead of that slice of pecan pie, substitute it for pumpkin pie, which can cut your calorie cut in half if you stick to one slice!


  • Even if you are busy, find time to exercise. Not only can it help keep off weight, but it’s also a great way to reduce stress. For example, a good, vigorous 45-minute bike ride can help you burn around 500 calories; a brisk hour walk can burn up to a few hundred calories.

Sharla Boothe is the Lead Clinical Dietitian at University Medical Center New Orleans. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, and serves on the board of the local affiliate, the New Orleans Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Additionally, she is a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician, and is a member of the American Society for Parenteral & Enteral Nutrition. She earned her Master of Science degree from University of Southern Mississippi. Originally from New Orleans, she has lived in southern Mississippi and central Louisiana prior to making her way back to the city that instilled a passion for good food! Outside of nutrition, her biggest passion is a love for animals. She also enjoys finding new and fun ways to incorporate physical activity – some favorites have been biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and yoga with baby kangaroos.

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