Having houseguests doesn't have to wreak havoc on your waistline.
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
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Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
Holidays and houseguests go together like -- well, roast beef and mashed potatoes, or apple pie and ice cream. And that can be a problem for the host or hostess who is watching his or her weight.
Holidays, guests, and food can be the trifecta of seasonal weight gain, experts say. From the temptations of all those candy dishes filled to the brim, to missing your regular workouts, to a few too many toasts to the season, the combination can be a veritable calorie minefield.
"Some people look for an excuse to go off their diet, or not exercise," says Jo-Anne Rizzotto, RD, a nutritionist and diabetes educator at the Joslin Clinic in Boston. "And when you haven't seen someone in a long time, and they come to stay, well, it can give you that reason."
What's more, the longer guests stay in your home, the more tempted you may be to veer off the path of healthy living.
"This not only presents problems for those trying to lose weight, it can be even more harmful for those with conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease" that require a special diet, says Toby Amidor, RD, a nutrition instructor in the culinary department of the Art Institute of New York City.
But with a little planning and creative thinking, the experts say, you can stick to your healthy habits -- and maybe even help your guests acquire a few new ones.
To help get you started, our experts put together six non-fattening ways to fill your home with holiday cheer.
1. Roll Out the Welcome Wagon
Ever since the Pilgrims invented our first major "food holiday" at Plymouth Rock, Americans have equated food with hospitality. But we don't really need boxes of chocolates or tubs of eggnog to make our guests feel welcome, Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, tells WebMD.
"There are lots of ways to show people they are welcome in your home without buying out the grocery store," says Blatner, a nutritionist and dietitian at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute in Chicago.
Among her suggestions: Stock your guest room with their favorite magazines or DVDs, and have their favorite CDs playing on the stereo. Fill the guest bathroom with luxurious soaps, shower gels, and body creams your guests can use, then take with them when they leave.
"The point is to go out of your way to make your guests feel special without relying on food," says Blatner.
2. Offer Plenty of Variety
You can't expect your guests to love every food on your particular eating plan. But, the experts say, the more variety of healthy foods you have on hand, the more likely it is that your guests will find something they like.
"If, for example, fruit is on your diet, buy lots of different kinds of fruit; if yogurt is on your list of foods, then stock your fridge with every flavor you can think of -- and go for the exotics and maybe the slightly costlier brands that will wow your guests and give them a treat," says Blatner.
Rizzotto agrees, and adds: "Variety also means planning for yourself, so make sure there are enough things you can eat -- like raw vegetables, pita wedges, and low-fat dips," she says. Then, if you decide to feed your guests high-calorie fare, you'll have something healthy to nibble on as well.
Another important tip: Have plenty of non-alcoholic or lower-calorie alcoholic drinks available.
"By and large, a huge portion of our entertaining calories are spent on holiday beverages, with eggnog being the worst offender," says Blatner.
If you have other options on hand -- like sparkling cider, wine spritzers, or light beer -- everyone can take part in the toasting without the guilt.
"You may be surprised to learn how many folks will welcome the chance to save up their calories for the dinner instead of spending them all on the alcohol drinks," adds Blatner.
3. Learn the Art of Creative Substitution
One simple way to keep your holidays healthy is to prepare lower-fat, lower-calorie versions of traditional foods.
"Make your houseguests part of your healthy lifestyle."
"Most every traditional holiday dish can be adapted to fit your eating plan, if you just cut down, not cut out, high-calorie ingredients such as sugar or oils," Amidor tells WebMD.
Most guests will never tell the difference, she says. If you are afraid yours will, Amidor says, prepare two versions -- one using the traditional, high-calorie recipe, and the other using a low-fat, low-sugar, or low-sodium recipe.
"You never have to use the phrase 'diet food'," Amidor says. "Just play up the ingredients in each and let people decide on their own what they want to try."
Use the same logic when making holiday snack foods, Rizzotto says.
"If you are preparing dips, for example, try blending olive oil, garlic, (and) ground black pepper with low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, or sour cream, and then sprinkle in your favorite herbs," she says. With all those flavors, no one will be able to tell you're serving a low-fat dip!
At the very least, Amidor says, having lower-calorie versions of favorite foods available means you'll be less tempted to overeat the higher-calorie dishes if you do serve them.
4. Serve Meals Buffet-Style
One sure way to guarantee that everyone has something they enjoy is to serve meals buffet-style.
"The buffet is great because you can have mostly the foods that are on your diet plan, with just a few of the super-calorie traditional holiday foods mixed in, so guests can choose to watch their calories or not, without stopping you from watching yours," says Amidor.
This is a particularly useful strategy when it comes to dessert, Rizzotto says.
"You can have fruit, and nuts, and flavored coffees and teas, as well as some higher-calorie treats like cookies or cake," she says. "And in this way, you not only give yourself the option of choosing a healthy treat, you also give that option to your guests, many of whom may really appreciate it."
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At any given time, Blatner tells WebMD, some 60% of women and at least 30% of men are either dieting or trying to maintain their weight, so it's likely at least some of your guests will welcome the healthier food options.
5. Issue an Invitation to Exercise
Who hasn't used a house full of company as a reason not to exercise? But even if you love your workouts, you may feel uncomfortable about putting your own needs ahead of your guests.
The way around both situations: Make your houseguests part of your healthy lifestyle, starting with an invitation to join your workout.
"If you belong to a gym or a health club, ask about a guest pass," says Blatner. Most gyms will be happy to oblige (possibly for a small fee). And remember, if they don't want to walk on the treadmill or join your aerobics class, your guests can take a dip in the pool or lounge in the sauna or Jacuzzi or steam bath while you work out.
Many houseguests will be grateful for the chance to keep up their own fitness regimens. Others may welcome an opportunity to try something new and find that joining you in a workout adds another dimension to the visit.
"It kind of says 'Hey, this is my life and I want you to share it with me'," says Blatner. "That can be a very bonding experience for both the hostess and the guest."
The same holds true if you work out at home, with a video or on your own equipment. Invite guests into this part of your life, the experts advise, and make sharing your healthy goals part of the visit.
But what if your houseguest is just not the exercising type?
"When this is the case, tell them at the start of the visit what your workout schedule is and give them the choice of either planning something they can do on their own during that time period -- such as visit with another friend or family member -- or give them some 'alone time' in the house, when they can relax and do what they want," says Blatner.
To help keep them occupied, provide magazines, DVDs, or books they might like, or bring out a family photo album or scrapbook and invite them to learn more about you.
6. Create a New Tradition
While the traditional holiday scenario may involve a big dinner, followed by fighting over who gets the recliner, you could be voted the hostess with the most-est if you plan a physical activity that everyone can enjoy.
"Whether it be a game of touch football or hoops; or, in snowy weather, sledding or building a snowman; or in warm weather, a game of volleyball; or even just a group walk around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols or looking at the lights, the point is to introduce movement and activity into your holiday traditions," says Amidor.
Not only will you benefit from working off some of those extra holiday calories, but also your guests may enjoy the opportunity to do the same.
Says Rizzotto: "When you help someone live a healthier life, that's really showing them how important they are to you, and how much you care."
Published December 16, 2005.
Medically updated December 1, 2006.
SOURCES: Jo-Anne Rizzotto MEd, RD, LDN, CDE, curriculum education specialist, Joslin Clinic, Boston. Toby Amidor, RD, nutrition instructor, culinary department, Art Institute of New York City, New York. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, Northwestern Memorial Hospital Wellness Institute, Chicago.
©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
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