Make This Holiday Season Your Healthiest Yet

  • November 8, 2016
  • by Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD

Enjoy delicious treats, but don’t keep them at home.

The holidays are often a daily barrage of rich treats. That’s fine, it’s only once a year. It is completely okay to allow yourself to enjoy a few treats at parties or festivities, but avoiding excess holiday weight gain means staying mindful of the volume of treats consumed overtime. So not keeping them in the house or in your dressing room is a good rule. It’s too easy to overindulge when they are readily accessible. Have fun at social events, but stick to a healthy eating plan at home. When the holidays are over and audition season rolls around, you will be fit, strong, and ready to be at your best.

Enjoy but watch portions.

Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite foods but watch portions. For example 1/3 cup of creamy mashed potatoes has only 80 calories but 1 ½ cups has 364 calories. If you add a pat of butter to that you’ve just added another 100 calories. Limiting anything in a cream or cheese sauce is another way to limit excess calories from saturated fat. Avoiding bacon or any side dishes cooked in rendered animal fats are a key way to naturally limit calories and you will be doing your cardiovascular system a big favor.

Give your holidays a plant slant.

Plant powered diets are one of the hottest trends in sports nutrition today, but this idea isn’t new. Centenarians living in the Blue Zones have been operating this way for over a hundred years and that’s why they stay healthy and trim well into old age (3). While the standard holiday feast makes meat the star of the meal, centenarians typically eat a diet that is mostly plant based with meat acting as an occasional side dish or flavor enhancer in an otherwise plant powered meal. When going through the holiday buffet, fill half your plate with vegetables and vegetable proteins first then sample small portions of your favorite rich, creamy, or meaty dishes. Let plants shine on your plate and your meal will undoubtedly have lower calories and will be more filling.

Both the Harvard School of Public Health and World Health Organization recommend limiting or avoiding red meat, bacon, and cured meats like sausage (1, 2).  These have been associated with higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and weight gain. Instead, choose protein sources that promote health and are naturally low in saturated fat like savory beans, lentils, peas, and meat alternatives from companies like Beyond Meat and Gardein.

Think outside the box

This delicious and healthy version of stuffing/dressing has cancer-fighting sources of protein plus calcium and potassium. This hearty, high protein recipe works well as a main dish or a side dish with other vegetables.

Healthy Thanksgiving Dressing:

Adapted from a recipe from the Nutrition Resource Book for Dancers by Emily Harrison and served at her own Southern family’s Thanksgiving dinner


Tempeh: 8 oz package cut into small cubes
Fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil chopped
½ tsp sea salt
2 Tbs good quality olive oil
2-3 carrots chopped into small pieces
2-3 stalks of celery chopped into small pieces
1 Cup vegetable broth
5-6 pieces of whole grain bread cut into squares.
Toasted pecans (optional)


In a large shallow frying pan, cook the tempeh cubes in the olive oil on medium to high heat until they are golden brown, then add the cubed bread, herbs and lightly toast. In a separate pot, cook the carrots and celery in the vegetable broth until slightly tender. Combine the vegetables, bread, cooked tempeh, and optional pecans. Mix well. Add additional vegetable broth as needed for desired consistency.


  1. Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source
  2. Carcinogenicity of Red and Processed Meat. IARC World Health Organization Lancet Oncol 2015.
  3. The Blue Zones: Live Longer Better.

Article produced by Dance Informa.

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