Winter diet tips, when to scrimp and when to splurge on calories

I’ve been hearing a lot of tips on how to cut calories out of your holiday meals on various network and local new programs. Indeed, I’ve been known to share those tips many times on WABI evening news, Good Day Maine and 207. Why wouldn’t I? They’re good tips, especially when I only have 2 to 5 minutes in which to share them.

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Two tips I find especially helpful are:

  • Pass by the ho hum foods (foods that are not particularly special or available on on the holiday.
  • Don’t rely on willpower, instead make a positive plan that details exactly the steps you want to take and coach to follow through your plan.

When it comes to tips to cut calories in your holiday meals, I don’t agree with a lot of experts, whom I suspect repeat these tips because they sound good, but they have no practical experience in their application. I’m a weight control expert with more than 25 years of personal and professional experience discovering what works and what doesn’t. I’ve discovered eating low-calorie versions of holiday favorites can backfire in a big way for me and a lot people i’ve helped.

Butter cookies made without sugar and butter are like eating cookies made out of sawdust.

Butter cookies made without sugar and butter are like eating cookies made out of sawdust.

In my experience the biggest mistake people can make is to treat a special holiday feast like it happens every day. It’s okay to splurge for special occasions. Splurges are a part of life. A splurge every now and then is not going to undermine your weight and health goals, but it can help you to reach and maintain them.

Scrimping on calories on a holiday feels good at first. It feels more than good. It feels amazing and creates a feeling of control.   

"I did it. I stuck right to my diet at the Christmas Party! Nothing is going to stop me."

“I did it. I stuck right to my diet at the Christmas Party! Nothing is going to stop me.”

Some people feel smug about their amazing ability to eat light when they’re surrounded by people eating with wild calorie abandon. Smugness and weight loss don’t mix well.

The mind does tricky things to dieters. Days after the holiday something strange happens. Their mind tells them, “You were so good, you deserve a little reward. Nobody has to know. Go ahead. Eat some.” They start to nibble. The nibbles get bigger and more frequent. Some might call it cheating. I don’t like to call eating anything cheating, but it you start to eat without being accountable for the food, I would call that “cheating yourself.”

The insidious thing about sneaking yourself little treats “because you deserve it for being so good,” is it becomes a habit that quickly turns into a problem. The habit goes unnoticed until it’s putting back on lost pounds. By the time that happens it’s firmly established and hard to stop.

Stuffing yourself once in a while because of a special or out-of-the-ordinary occasion doesn’t have much affect on overall progress because it happens so rarely. Habitually slipping in calories throughout the day, everyday without accounting for them is a different story.


A better strategy is splurge on holidays and make smart scrimps on meals and snacks most days. Scrimping on everyday meals is easy. A simple way is to cook with more vegetables. Vegetables lets you have big portions for fewer calories. You can eat larger servings while cutting calories in a way that tastes good. That’s a real win/win!

Steamed salmon with carrots and zucchini. A plate full of food, loaded with nutrients, and low in energy density (calories).

Steamed salmon with carrots and zucchini. A plate full of food, loaded with nutrients, and low in energy density (calories).

Some people scrimp by making substitutions such as no-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar and using reduced fat or fat-free products. I would rather experiment by reducing the sugar and fat in recipes without substituting it. It’s important to find out what’s most satisfying because that’s the best way to ensure you’re making changes that you can sustain.

Another way to scrimp is to eat smaller portions. You cut calories without making any alterations to the recipe. Smaller portions may not look like there’s enough food to satisfy you, but there are ways you can help yourself feel full when eating less including using smaller plates and making a conscious effort to eat slower.

Lasting weight management takes making changes that are a good fit with your life. You might have heard if you repeat a change every day for three weeks, it becomes a habit. It sounds true, but it’s not how many times you repeat a behavior to make it a habit. It what that habit meets your needs. If it’s not a good fit with your life it won’t give you what you need or want. When the unfulfilled need gets too great, the new behavior is replaced by the old habit.

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If you want to learn more ways to scrimp on calories and make eating lighter a better fit with your life, think about trying Weight Watchers meetings. The focused conversations around how to scrimp without sacrifice are enlightening because members are sharing their insights gained by real life experience. Instead of theories that sound logical but don’t work in real life, you’ll benefit from coaching and support by people who discovered what really works.


Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. She is a Weight Watchers success story. She's a weight loss expert with 25 years of experience guiding women and men to their weight-related goals. Her articles on weight management have been published in health, family and women's magazines. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news, FOX network morning program Good Day Maine and 207 on WCSH.