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Healthy for the Holidays

Healthy for the Holidays
By Erin O’Brien

‘Tis the season – for parties! It’s December, which means a month-long celebration with friends, family, co-workers and more. Christmas rolls into New Year’s Eve, with football bowl games and the Superbowl mixed in and, for many of us, World of Concrete is right in the middle. Ironically the time of year many of us often vow to be healthier, lose weight or give up something with a New Year Resolution is also the time it’s hardest to do so. While there is no “one size fits all” answer, there are some easy things you can do to make your holiday season just a little healthier.

Decide ahead of time where you want to splurge and where you will hold back. Maybe your host is known for their amazing cocktails and wine selection? So, in a trade off, skip the dessert table. Cookie exchange? Great! Grab a small plate and that’s it. Dinner and dessert? You can still enjoy yourself – but maybe make it ok to try the amazing cheesy potatoes and skip the chocolate ganache cake.

If a meal is not being served, plan to eat before you go so you are less tempted to fill up on snacks and finger foods. Little bites here and there can add up quickly. You’re not supposed to go grocery shopping hungry, and the same rule applies here – don’t show up starving when you have an unlimited buffet of delicious food at your disposal.

Again, make a plan here. Make your plate and then move away from the buffet. Don’t linger near anything you could grab easily. Sit down somewhere, strike up a conversation and try to avoid the temptation of going back for multiple trips.

When making your plate, don’t start with the carbs – grab veggies first, followed by protein and then finally carbs. Don’t take a dinner roll – they’re not usually worth it. Eat any salads and veggies first, and then proteins. See if you are still hungry. A small portion of carbs (potatoes, pasta, bread, etc.) can come next if you’re still hungry or craving. Even better, bring a veggie dish that you know you enjoy, making sure you get as many veggies in as you can.

While delicious, these items are usually swimming in sugar, cream or butter. Enjoy them, but in small amounts. Things like green bean casserole (cream/butter), sweet potato casserole (sugar, butter and marshmallows on top – why?), Swedish meatballs or any meatball in a sweet sauce (cream/sugar) are all calorie bombs you should avoid as much as possible.

This doesn’t have to be an alcoholic drink, it could be a glass of sparkling water or iced tea, but having something to do with your hands other than eat or graze will help curb your temptation to snack. I like using a larger glass so it takes longer to drink and is harder to set down somewhere.

Easy calories here, so just be careful. Avoid any pre-made punches, cocktails, etc. as they are probably full of sugary mixes. Wine is a good choice, or a cocktail with a non-sugary mixer like club soda, tonic or diet soda. Vodka, cranberry juice and club soda is a festive, light cocktail you can enjoy as long as you go for the low-sugar cranberry juice. Lighter spirits like vodka and tequila are lower in calories than darker spirits like rum, bourbon and cognac. And stay away from the Eggnog – honestly, I don’t know what anyone sees in that drink. It can be up to 450 calories per drink and a waste of perfectly good bourbon.

I LOVE POTATOES. So that’s my splurge – mashed, cheesy, au gratin, roasted, baked, fried – I will be loading those on my plate. And then skipping dessert. Choose your favorite, indulge (because it’s the holidays!) and hold back on the rest. (If you also LOVE POTATOES and want the absolute best mashed potato recipe, let me know. It has like two sticks of butter, heavy cream and roasted melty garlic and it’s amazing.)

Not every party will be holiday themed. Football parties for bowl games, college football national championship, playoffs and the Super Bowl also dominate the winter party scene. A few things to try here – fill up on grilled chicken wings and burgers, go light on the chips and dip and keep your hands busy by playing games – cornhole, tossing a football or whatever keeps you away from the buffet table. Being active also helps burn calories, so win-win!

One last tip – drink lots of water! Not only will this keep you hydrated and less likely to feel any hangover effects from all of those drinks, but it will also help fill you up so you eat less. To make it more festive, try sparking water, add fruit or even a splash of juice.
I hope these tips help you enjoy a healthier holiday season! Check out the sidebar for a list of common holiday dishes and their calorie count so you are better informed and can make the best choices for you. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel and Happy Festivus!

Erin O’Brien, MS, ATC is a Certified Athletic Trainer and VP/COO for O’Brien International, the association management company that manages the Concrete Sawing & Drilling Association, and Executive Director of CSDA. O’Brien received her Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training from Ohio University and her Master of Science degree in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology from the University of Florida. She is also a Certified Level 2 CrossFit Instructor and member of CrossFit9 in St. Petersburg, FL. She is a regular contributor to Concrete Openings magazine. She can be reached at or 727-577-5002.

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