Science & Wellness

Expert tips for a healthy holiday

If you’re trying to avoid holiday weight gain, nutrition expert Michelle Cardel has some tips, tricks and advice to help you succeed.

“On average, most American adults gain 2 pounds a year. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can add up over the years,” says Cardel, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

She offers these tips to stay healthy through the holidays and beyond.

1) Deprivation doesn’t work

“We like to dichotomize food into good and bad, but there is no food that you should feel guilty eating. It's all about portion control,” Cardel says. “If your mom makes amazing pecan pie, have a slice and then brush your teeth so you’re not tempted to have more. That’s better than not eating at all and watching everyone else enjoy it, because that doesn’t work over the long term.”


2) Watch for emotional triggers

It’s not just the festive mood that can lead to overeating.

“For some people, the holidays can be really stressful. That can influence people to eat in ways they wouldn't normally eat because they're stressed out. Being aware of your feelings and why you're reaching for that second piece of pie can help you stay on track.”


3) Revamp favorite recipes

“My family is from Puerto Rico, and we love to do Latin dishes. I substitute nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream: It tastes exactly the same,” Cardel says.

Her other secret weapon? Avocado. She uses it instead of mayonnaise in deviled eggs and even blends it into chocolate mousse. “It’s super tasty and decadent.” 

She also makes lasagna with steamed cabbage in place of pasta. (Recipes below.)

“You don’t miss the pasta. I layer it with low-fat cottage cheese, sauce, ground turkey and sautéed veggies to amp up the nutrition.” 


4) Alcohol can be a triple whammy

Alcohol not only packs empty calories, but also can decrease your inhibitions, leading to overeating.

“There’s this idea that drinking gives you a beer belly, but it’s not necessarily the drinking, it’s the food that comes in association.”

Additionally, people who are dehydrated often mistakenly think they’re hungry, Cardel says. “Have a glass of water. If you still feel hungry in five minutes, then get something to eat,” she advises.


5) Start a new tradition

It might seem like a long shot to get your family up and about after a big holiday meal, but building in some activity can make the season healthier and more festive.

“It could be something simple like bocce or cornhole, or a big family walk. It’s about getting outside and moving instead of falling into food coma.”

One thing you shouldn’t do: “Never push your agenda when it comes to healthy behavior – it can easily be seen as shaming. Just get outside with the people who want to go. When everyone sees you guys having fun, they’ll be more likely to go out and have fun too.” 


6) Don’t beat yourself up 

If you fail, focus on figuring out why instead of berating yourself.

“Take time to think and assess why it happened. Were you stressed? Did you not get enough sleep? Be kind to yourself. Things happen. Life happens. It's about progress, not perfection.”

Michelle Cardel’s Cabbage Lasagna


Ground beef or turkey (about 1.25 pounds, seasoned however you like)
2 cloves of garlic
One head of cabbage
One big container of low-fat cottage cheese
1.5 cups of shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese (or any cheeses you want) 
One jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
16 oz. can of fire-roasted tomatoes
Veggies (I like to throw in some fresh tomatoes and sautéed onions, mushrooms and spinach)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Steam the cabbage and then dry it (if not, the lasagna becomes runny).
  3. Sauté any veggies you want added in to the mix.
  4. Sauté the seasoned meat with a little olive oil and the garlic. Add the fire-roasted tomatoes and mix in with the meat. 
  5. In a large lasagna pan, layer the cabbage, then add meat, spaghetti sauce, cottage cheese and then shredded cheese. Do another layer just like the first.
  6. Bake 30-40 minutes. Sometimes I like to broil it for a minute or two at the end to let the cheese get crusty.

Sea Salt Chocolate Avocado Mousse

1/3 cup honey
2 ripe avocados, chopped
4 oz dark chocolate pieces
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

  1. Melt dark chocolate, honey and coconut oil over medium heat for 3-5 minutes in saucepan.
  2. Combine melted chocolate mixture with avocados, sea salt, coconut and cocoa powder in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
  3. Place in the fridge and chill for at least four hours. Makes 8 servings.
Alisson Clark Author
December 15, 2015