Cheryl Forberg’s best piece of healthy eating advice for a holiday party might seem weird: Eat before you go.
Not a huge meal, of course, but eating half a sandwich or yogurt with berries and nuts means that you’ll make better decisions when you get there because you won’t be so hungry.
“When you wait too long to eat or skip meals — Americans are notorious for that — we eat too much, too fast and choose the wrong things,” says Forberg, a registered dietitian who has been the nutritionist for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” for 17 seasons.
Forberg doesn’t believe in saying “no” to indulgence, but she does want you to be more conscious of it.
Go ahead and place a small serving of whatever you’re really looking forward to eating, such as those buttery mashed potatoes and gravy or the decadent dessert, but try to limit yourself to just one, maybe two bites.
Sit with your back to the holiday buffet. Use a smaller plate. Fill half of it with vegetables.
Forberg, who recently wrote a new book called “A Small Guide to Losing Big” that includes two weeks’ worth of recipes, says that, on the other hand, don’t get stuck in fat phobia.
Good fats are really important, she says, but can be hard to come by at a holiday party. You could always bring a jar of pistachios as a hostess gift, Forberg says, or a few big, beautiful avocados.
Cocktails can sink anyone’s healthy eating plan, so consider skipping the booze — or just having a few sips of that hot buttered rum or eggnog — and then switching to sparkling water like La Croix with a little cranberry juice. “You feel like you’re drinking a cocktail,” she says, but saving a few hundred empty calories.
Like many “Biggest Loser” contestants she’s worked with, many of her clients don’t realize how many calories they are drinking. “Two glasses with dinner is a second dinner,” she says. “People don’t think about that. They’ll have a frothy coffee drink that more calories than breakfast but without protein or nutrients.”
Making sure you’re drinking water throughout the day will help keep you feeling full, but it’s wise to have some of your daily calories coming from milk because it is so dense in calcium and other nutrients.
If you don’t drink milk, don’t replace it with cheese. She recommends that clients incorporate yogurt into their diets, especially the protein-rich (and super-satisfying) kinds, such as Greek.
She works with all of her clients to get a place where they are consuming a steady amount of calories throughout the day. That can be a hard sell at first.
When you’re trying to cut back on your calories, three meals a day plus two snacks might seem like a lot, but eating smaller portions of nutrient-dense food means that your body has a steady supply of fuel throughout the day.
If you know you’re going to a huge holiday feast and that you’d like to indulge a bit, definitely make time to work out that day so you can enjoy yourself rather than spend the whole time doing mental math adding up the calories you’re eating, she says.
Worrying about your calorie intake can do more damage over the long run than the calories you actually consume that day or night, she says.
If you eat too much over the course of one day or at a single party, “you might say, ‘Screw it, because I fell off the wagon, and it’s going to be like this for three more weeks,’” she says. “You have to realize that everybody slips up now and then, but the next day, exercise more, eat less, or both.”
Too many people wait until January to start (or restart) healthy eating and exercising habits. “Forget about this Jan. 1 business,” she says. “Put exercise in your calendar just like a conference call.”
Exercise is an energy- and mood-booster that improves your mental well-being as much as your physical, so the sooner you can start doing that the sooner you’ll start feeling better, even if you aren’t seeing results in the mirror.
Cardio is important, but don’t skip weight-bearing exercise, too. “People don’t realize that once we are in our 30s, we start to lose muscle mass, and our muscle mass burns calories,” she says. “If we aren’t maintaining and building those muscles, our metabolism is going to go down.”
Weight-bearing exercise helps keep your bones strong, too, which is especially important for women, and you don’t have to join a gym or workout class to get it.
YouTube and Netflix have hundreds of options for teachers who can bring the workout to you without you having to leave the house, but even if you’re holiday shopping or running errands, you can incorporate exercise into your day by walking a few extra laps around the mall or doing arm lifts while holding your grocery bags as you walk to the car or house.
Forberg is less concerned with the specific kind of exercise, as long as it’s something you love and look forward to doing. Your workout regimen is more about carving out the time to do it, not necessarily which specific activities you do during that time. “Just move,” she says.
Holiday Green Beans
The salty, rich green bean casserole of Thanksgiving is behind us, but you might be looking for a healthy side dish for Christmas, New Year’s or beyond. Here’s one of Forberg’s favorite ways to prepare green beans that includes tossing them in a flavorful and nutrient-rich pistachio pesto.
1 Tbsp. grapeseed or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (red, yellow or white)
4 slices turkey bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 1/2 lb. trimmed green beans, cut in 2- to 3-inch pieces, blanched (or frozen and thawed)
2 roasted yellow or red bell peppers, peeled, seeded and cut in matchsticks
1/4 cup pistachio pesto
Heat oil in large nonstick saute pan. Add onion and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until softened and just beginning to brown. Add bacon and cook 1 minute longer. Add beans and bell pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until beans are tender but still bright green. Spoon the pesto over the beans and toss evenly to distribute. Serve immediately. Serves 8.
1 1/2 cups roasted, unsalted pistachio kernels
1/2 cup grapeseed (or olive) oil
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 tsp. smoked salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
In the bowl of a food processor, chop the pistachios. Add the oil, basil, garlic and pulse until mixture is somewhat smooth but slightly chunky. Transfer to a small mixing bowl. Add cheese, salt, pepper and transfer to covered container. Refrigerate. Makes 2 cups.
— From “A Small Guide to Losing Big” by Cheryl Forberg (Flavor First, $12.99)