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Enjoy a guiltless healthy holiday with help from the nutrition experts at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital

The most wonderful time of the year brings gifts and celebrations… and, of course, a lot of food! Decadently rich recipes and treats can create anxiety in some who have been working on developing healthy habits and controlling their weight. But with help from the nutrition experts at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, you can enjoy the holidays guilt-free.

“To lessen anxiety, some patients in our clinic decide to take a month-long vacation from those habits from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” says Nancy Oliveira, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES, Senior Nutritionist in the Nutrition Clinic at BWFH.

Oliveira believes that it’s not the delicious seasonal foods that lead to weight gain, but an all-or-nothing attitude. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong in enjoying with zero guilt a full Thanksgiving plate and pie afterwards. A healthy lifestyle includes indulgences, especially for special moments,” she says.

The key, Oliveira explains, is understanding that true fat gain doesn’t come from a few high-calorie meals. It requires overeating for many days and weeks. “People may feel they have failed by eating extra on a holiday, and that negative emotion leads to self-sabotage by continuing to indulge weeks after, slacking on the exercise and saying they’ll restart in the New Year. The indulgences become a frustration and negative experience when they see the scale tick up,” she explains.

Rather than an all-or-nothing attitude, Oliveira suggest you try these seven tips to use mindfulness, awareness and balance to enjoy a truly guilt-free holiday:

1. It’s fine to eat meals that are lighter than usual before an event, but don’t think that fasting and skipping meals entirely will save calories; this almost always leads to excessive eating later.

2. Trust your body to tell you what you really want to eat, when and how much. Tune into your hunger, as well as when you feel comfortably satisfied and can take a break from eating.

3. It is vital to choose foods and drinks that you truly love and crave. If you choose instead a “healthier” option, those cravings for what you really wanted will intensify and you may eat it anyway.

4. Use mindfulness: savor the sight, smell and flavor of each bite of food. Take small bites and chew slowly so that you notice the textures and flavors. In this way, you might even eat less with greater enjoyment.

5. Pace yourself so you can enjoy everything. For example, if you’re already full gobbling up the appetizers, continuing to eat will just lead to physical discomfort.

6. Notice and enjoy things other than the food such as holiday decorations, lights, music and conversations with people.

7. Continue to include exercise throughout the season because you enjoy moving your body and feeling strong, not because you’re trying to work off calories. If the holidays are a busier time and you can’t fit it in your usual routine, be flexible and do shorter workouts.

Lastly, Oliveira says healthy holiday recipes don’t need to be less delicious! Here’s one of her favorites you can try this season.

Sweet Potato Casserole

This popular side dish is usually made with brown sugar, butter and even marshmallows. Here is an easy lightened version that is packed with nutrients and fiber with no added sugars.


2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 large)

3 tbsp soft margarine like Olivio or Earth Balance spread, melted

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tsp ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Pinch of salt, optional

1 cup any chopped nuts or a combination (pecans, walnuts, almonds)


1. Preheat oven to 375°

2. Cook the sweet potatoes. For fastest cooking, use the microwave or boil them. If leaving the skins on for extra fiber and nutrients, scrub them well under running water.

Microwave: Pierce whole potatoes with a fork 5 times to allow steam to escape. Place 2 potatoes at a time on a microwave-safe dish and heat on high about 8-10 minutes or until soft in the center. After 5 minutes flip the potato to ensure even heating. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing the skin, if desired.

Boil: Peel the potatoes and chop into small chunks. Place in large pot boiling water and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

3. Place cooked sweet potatoes and applesauce in a blender, and blend until smooth. Or place the potatoes and applesauce in a large bowl and use an immersion or hand blender.

4. Add melted margarine and spices and stir well.

5. Pour mixture into a 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the nut mixture and extra cinnamon, if desired, evenly over the top of the potatoes.

6. Bake for 30 minutes or until topping is slightly browned.

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