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Coach Shan's HEALTHY HOLIDAYS Nutrition Tips

With the holiday season upon us, many are wondering how they can get through family celebrations, potlucks, dessert exchanges, etc., without packing on the pounds.

First, I’d like to acknowledge that gaining a few pounds over the holidays probably isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. I think the more important issue is that unhealthy foods can really affect your mood and make you feel sluggish and unmotivated, and therein lies the longer term problem. The good news is that a few small changes can go a long way and there is no need to deprive yourself!

Here is my list of suggestions on how to stay on track this holiday season.


You’ve heard this a million times. It seems so simple, but how can it really help? Drinking water helps people feel full, and as a result consume fewer calories. Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity¹.

Studies have shown that drinking two cups of water immediately before a meal can leave you feeling more full and leave to a significant decrease in the calories consumed during the meal².

If there is one thing I have learned while preparing for my upcoming photoshoot, it is that drinking lots of water saved me from binging more times than I can count. It worked wonders to fill my tummy! I especially like no-calorie sparkling waters.


Fibre is another important nutrient that induces fullness. Some studies show that increased dietary fibre can reduce total calorie intake, which may help prevent weight gain over the holidays³.

Do your best to eat fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, raw nuts, and seeds.

Studies have also shown that eating a small plate of vegetables (such as a broth based vegetable soup or a plate or fresh or steamed veggies) before you eat your meal can leave you feeling full and therefore reducing the amount of calories you will consume during your meal⁴.


We all know that dinner parties and potlucks are common during the holiday season and typically large plates are on offer. Studies show that people tend to consume larger portions from big plates, which may lead to overeating. Thus, a smaller plate is an easy way to control portions. I have been doing this for years and actually eat almost all of my meals on smaller plates.


During the holidays, alcohol, pop, eggnog, hot chocolate, juices and other calorie-rich beverages are prevalent. If you’re at a family gathering where drinks are flowing freely, you could easily consume an extra 1000 calories or more on drinks alone. For example, just one large hot chocolate from Tim Hortons has 420 calories, 10 grams of fat and a whopping 79 grams of carbs! These drinks can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which of course can cause weight gain.

Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased appetite and is a risk factor for weight gain, so not only does alcohol add unnecessary calories to your diet, but drinking too much can make us lose our inhibitions around food and start eating irresponsibly. Before you know it, you might find yourself saying things like, “Hey, what’s one more cookie? Christmas calories don’t count, right?”


Boosting your protein intake with lean meats, skinless poultry, low-fat dairy, seafood, and beans will keep you feeling satisfied longer. When you visit the buffet table, opt for these lean protein choices and complement them with high-fibre grains, fruits, and vegetables, which we know can also help fill you up for relatively few calories.

But wait, don’t these buffet tables and potlucks usually contain unhealthy foods and potentially not a lot of lean protein or high fibre foods? Just do the best you can with what is there, but that does lead me to my next tip….


Rather than try to figure out what’s in every dish at a dinner party, bring a healthy side dish or dessert. Here are some easy ways to modify your favourite recipes to make them a little healthier:

For Baking

• Replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana, or pumpkin puree.

• Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie substitute such as stevia, erythritol, or xylitol.

• Add dried fruit instead of chocolate chips or candies.

• Replace some of the flour with protein powder. (I have found that vegan protein works much better than whey protein for baking.)

For Cooking

• Flavour dishes with fresh herbs and spices instead of butter.

• Use cooking methods like baking, steaming, or grilling instead of frying.

• When possible, substitute low-fat, skim milk, or dairy-free milk for heavy cream.

• Replace cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo with plain fat free Greek yogurt.

• Replace sugar in recipes with organic liquid stevia. A tiny bit goes a long way!


The quicker we eat a meal, the less time we give our bodies to register fullness. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that dinner’s been served, it’s best to go for a walk, drink some water, or chat with friends/family before dishing up seconds.


A simple way to look at losing weight is to move more and eat less. (Actually, I prefer to eat better, not less.) The secret here is that there is no secret -- you need to eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight or eat the same amount of calories as you burn in order to maintain your weight. And how do we burn those calories? By moving! Moving doesn’t just mean hitting the gym or running 20 kilometres. During the holidays, just make a conscious decision to get more steps into the day by taking the stairs or parking far away from store entrances.

Perhaps the most underrated form of exercise in my opinion is walking. Go for a brisk walk first thing in the morning or after dinner. Plan a hike or snowshoeing adventure with family or friends. Find a 20 minute workout on YouTube. The opportunities to move are endless if you make the conscious decision to do so.




  1. Stookey JD, Constant F, Popkin BM, Gardner CD. Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Nov;16(11):2481-8. doi: 10.1038/oby.2008.409. Epub 2008 Sep 11. PMID: 18787524.

  2. Corney RA, Sunderland C, James LJ. Immediate pre-meal water ingestion decreases voluntary food intake in lean young males. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Mar;55(2):815-819. doi: 10.1007/s00394-015-0903-4. Epub 2015 Apr 18. PMID: 25893719.

  3. Lattimer JM, Haub MD. Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health. Nutrients. 2010 Dec;2(12):1266-89. doi: 10.3390/nu2121266. Epub 2010 Dec 15. PMID: 22254008; PMCID: PMC3257631.

  4. Eating soup will help cut calories at meal | Penn State University (

  5. Peng M. How does plate size affect estimated satiation and intake for individuals in normal-weight and overweight groups? Obes Sci Pract. 2017 Jun 27;3(3):282-288. doi: 10.1002/osp4.119. PMID: 29071104; PMCID: PMC5598018.

  6. Cains, S., Blomeley, C., Kollo, M. et al. Agrp neuron activity is required for alcohol-induced overeating. Nat Commun 8, 14014 (2017).


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