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This is the time of year that it is common for long-term weight loss dieters to throw up their hands and say, “Help! My family is sabotaging my diet!”

If this is a situation that describes you, don't lose hope quite yet. Here is single most helpful strategy for staying on your diet when the people you cook for want to eat something entirely different:

How Can I Lose Weight When My Family Wants to Eat Everything in Sight?

Remember that everything does not have to be cooked at the same time you eat it.

In fact, many foods, such as soups, spice cakes, chili, stuffing, and almost any food infused with a liqueur will taste better the second or third day after preparation.

You always want to make healthy meals for yourself. Your family may not enjoy every healthy meal you fix, but they are likely to enjoy some healthy dishes. When you are cooking a healthy meal for the whole family, make extra for yourself, so you will have a healthy meal you can eat the next time the rest of your family eats an entree that is off your diet.

If your diet does not permit pizza, for instance, but your family loves it, you can still order pizza for a special occasion. You just need to have made your own healthy meal to eat and enjoy while they are eating pizza. Soup, in particular, will give you a physical feeling of fullness that kills your appetite for more food, even pizza, and soups often taste better after two or even three days of refrigeration.

Your family's happiness is worth all the effort you spend on them. Getting into the habit of cooking ahead will enable you to stick to your diet while providing them with the foods they love. Now let's consider some healthy holiday treats for the whole family.

Side Dishes for Healthy Holiday Meals

Most families have a favorite entree for particular holiday meals. In the United States, turkey is prescribed for Thanksgiving, but other kinds of fish, shellfish, meat, eggs, and even soy are favorites for Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. There are even families that make a tradition of roasting hot dogs and Marshmallows in a seldom-used fireplace!

Chances are that you won't be able to change your family's preferences for the main dish, but you can introduce healthy foods as side dishes. Some suggestions include:

Cauliflower as a substitute for potatoes. If carbohydrates are the no-no for your diet plan, a great way to get the mouth feel of high-carb potatoes is to substitute cauliflower. You will want to be sure to cut away any green leaves or stems before boiling the cauliflower to get the familiar, white color. You will want to completely drain cauliflower before mashing to make faux mashed potatoes to get the right texture. And to prevent any cabbage-like odor in the finished product, boil the cauliflower with a single, unshelled walnut to absorb any sulfur compounds, throwing away the walnut after the cauliflower is done.

Disguise healthy winter greens in a hearty soup. Soup is not popular at Thanksgiving meals because everyone wants to dig in to the turkey. Soup as a first course at a Christmas meal, on the other hand, is much more traditional. Winter greens like endive, kale, and spinach can be added to hearty and well-seasoned lentil dishes for vitamins, phytonutrients, and fiber in a single, small serving. You can be sure your family is getting nutrition along with all the sweets they eat on the holiday.

Or take a cue from the Kwanzaa traditions and serve soup made with sweet potatoes, peanuts, or pumpkin, or try a hearty gumbo with or without seafood.

Stir-fry sweet corn. Chances are you won't be able to find fresh corn on the cob in December (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), but you probably can find super-sweet corn kernels in your supermarket's freezer case. Instead of boiling your sweet corn, serve it stir fried with red or Ancho peppers, or make a South Asian stir fry with cilantro, cardamom, and white pepper.

For your vegetarian and vegan guests, forget about the tofu turkey. Instead, make a delectable casserole of tempeh and wild mushrooms, or serve steel-cut oats boiled and then fried into triangles with a fruit compote on top.

The Holiday Diet Disaster You Must Avoid

The one thing you must not do with your holiday menu is to emphasize diet soft drinks and similar sugar-free but sweet beverages. The problem with diet drinks is that they upset the brain's responses to sugar in food. In physiological terms, the process runs like this:

1. You drink a sweet drink that does not contain any calories.
2. Your pancreas tastes (yes, your pancreas also has nerves that enable taste sensation) the sweetness and produces insulin to get ready for the sugar it “expects” to be released quickly from the sugar in the drink.
3. No sugar arrives in your bloodstream from the drink, but the insulin is available for its other function, storing fat. This means that if you drink diet soft drinks, and you overeat anything at all, you have primed your fat cells to grab all the fatty acids they can out of your bloodstream. They pack that extra fat in your belly, your thighs, and your hips, but especially, in both men and women, in the buttocks.

Stevia-sweetened drinks don't have this effect. Saccharin is actually worse than aspartame. If you simply cannot imagine living without your sugar-free soft drinks and you find the holidays a bad time to try to change any kind of eating habit, then consider a supplement. The Ayurvedic herb gurmar, also known by its botanical name Gymnema sylvestre, makes your taste buds less sensitive to sweetness. If you take the herb, you will lose your taste for artificially sweetened drinks and candies, and save yourself some of the storage of excess fat. For some people, taking this supplement makes all the difference between weight maintenance and weight gain in the holiday season.

  • Nakagawa Y, Nagasawa M, Yamada S, Hara A, Mogami H, Nikolaev VO, Lohse MJ, Shigemura N, Ninomiya Y, Kojima I. Sweet taste receptor expressed in pancreatic beta-cells activates the calcium and cyclic AMP signaling systems and stimulates insulin secretion. PLoS One. 2009,4(4):e5106. Epub 2009 Apr 8
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