Resting Metabolic Rate: The Key to Understanding Your Metabolism

Knowing your individual resting metabolic rate (RMR) and what factors most influence your metabolism is essential in creating a smarter strategy to tackle weight loss, gain muscle, run longer or faster, taper before a race or refuel after training.

RMR represents the energy expended at rest to support basic physiological processes such as controlling body temperature, breathing, circulating blood and contracting muscles, as well as supporting brain, organ and nerve activity. RMR accounts for approximately 70% of the total energy we expend each day. Many factors influence your RMR such as age, body temperature, stress and muscle mass. Our RMR generally declines with increasing age due to a decrease in fat free mass and can increase due to stress.

The number of calories you need per day is dependent on a number of factors such as age, body weight, gender, RMR and physical activity levels. Your RMR may vary between 1200 and 2400 calories a day or more depending on your activity level. Once you know your resting metabolic rate you can determine your total daily caloric expenditure by taking into account the thermic effect of exercise (TEE) which is the amount of calories burned during exercise and the thermic effect of feeding (TEF) which is the amount of calories burned to digest food and accounts for less than 10% of your total caloric expenditure.

Learn more about the thermic effect of food and starvation mode from a previous blog, "The Meal Frequency Myth."
Learn more about the thermic effect of food and starvation mode from a previous blog, “The Meal Frequency Myth.”

Experts in Sports Performance at Houston Methodist see many people fall into the trap of eating too little when trying to lose weight which can have a negative effect on their metabolism and result in a significant slowdown of metabolism. The body thinks it is in starvation mode, making it harder to lose weight.

If you eat less than your resting metabolic rate or if you’re not eating enough calories to support your current activity level then you could be doing more harm than good to your metabolism. This is especially true for athletes. Once you find out your individual number you can determine exactly how many calories your body needs to lose, maintain or gain weight.

The opposite is also true as many people are eating way more calories than their body needs and are shocked when the results show that they need to be cutting their caloric intake in half or more. We recommend using a calorie tracker app that allows you to input your food intake and calculates your calories for the day.

RMR testing can tell you how many calories your body needs based on your goals, putting you in control of your weight rather than guessing. For accurate results, you should be fasted for at least eight hours and in a rested state at least 30 minutes prior to testing. Testing is best done first thing in the morning and involves breathing through a mask in a comfortable position for 20 minutes.

The test provides information on your metabolic rate and whether you are burning fats or carbohydrates. A nutritionist can use this information to tailor a diet plan specifically for you.

Gut health: Exploring the rainforest within

Imagine a lush tropical rain forest filled with a rich diversity of plant and animal life. This represents the complexity of our gut microbiome, an ecosystem residing in our digestive tract. Scientists are only beginning to unravel the far-reaching effects of gut health.

With surprising roles ranging from influencing our waistline and mood to promoting dental health and a clear complexion, the microbiome is a promising new frontier in medicine.

Increased awareness of how certain foods keep gut flora flourishing has sparked shifts in grocery store shopping and there’s a rising demand for probiotic-powered foods. Here’s what you need to know to nurture your gut microbiome.

Know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics

This dynamic duo has a harmonious relationship in the gut, working together to promote digestive health. Prebiotics are power food for probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial, living organisms that improve our immune system by helping to crowd out bacteria that can make us sick.

In addition, probiotics enhance absorption of nutrients from food and even help make energy-producing B vitamins.

Prebiotics are fibers in food that resist digestion in the upper digestive tract but are used as fuel by probiotics in the lower digestive tract. Probiotics rely on a steady supply of fuel from prebiotics so they can flourish. The best way to ensure that your probiotic population is happy and well-fed is to load up on fiber-rich plant foods.

Top sources of prebiotics include bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, whole grains and legumes like lentils, beans and peas. Be sure to gradually incorporate these foods into your diet and drink plenty of water to help your digestive system adjust to the increased fiber intake as it helps move things along.

Separate health from hype when shopping

Foods that are cultured or fermented naturally contain probiotics, but food companies are adding probiotics to processed foods such as energy bars and frozen yogurt. The potency of probiotic cultures can be drastically weakened when they are removed from their original source and added into these processed foods.

Kefir has diverse probiotic strains that may improve lactose digestion among those who are lactose intolerant.

Sip the champagne of dairy

Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir reign supreme as the most potent probiotic sources. Known as the champagne of cultured dairy because of its slight fizziness, kefir is a low-lactose, creamy drink made by adding “kefir grains” to milk, which cause a very unique fermenting process. 

Originating centuries ago in Eastern Europe, keifer has only recently become commercialized in the United States. While yogurt and kefir both contain beneficial bacteria, kefir hosts a more diverse population of probiotic strains, meaning it could offer added probiotic benefits, such as improving lactose digestion among those who are lactose intolerant.

Check the yogurt container

To make sure your yogurt really does have probiotic power, check for the “Live and Active Cultures” seal. Yogurts that say “heat treated after culturing” on the label mean the yogurt was pasteurized after the live strains were added, which deactivates the beneficial bacteria.

Check sugar content since sugar can work against probiotic benefits. Flavored yogurts that list sugar as the first or second ingredient can pack more sugar than a candy bar.

Choose food over supplements

Think twice before choosing a supplement over food. The journey probiotic supplements make from the lab to the gut is long and full of variables. The best and least expensive option for promoting good gut health is to enjoy foods that naturally contain live cultures.

Chocolate-covered mindfulness

fter celebrating love by indulging in creamy, dreamy chocolate over Valentine’s Day, many will struggle to tame their sweet tooth.  Those few divine pieces of chocolate left in the red heart-shaped box are hard to resist and leave you wanting more long after they’re gone.   Here’s some great news: You can have your chocolate and eat it too! In fact, it’s entirely possible to have less chocolate while enjoying it even more.  This is where the art of mindfulness come in.  Mindful eating is about slowing down and fully engaging your senses for a transcendent experience that derives maximum pleasure from food.  Here are three tips to heighten your chocolate satisfaction while cultivating mindfulness:

You Deserve the Best

High-quality chocolate will reward you with the richest and most complex flavors to revel in.  A smooth, shiny surface, even coloring and a clean break with no crumbling when the chocolate is snapped are just a few qualities of premium chocolate.  As with wine, the geographical origin of the cocoa beans used to make the chocolate will influence the flavors.  Commercial chocolates are highly processed and usually made with subpar ingredients, including corn syrup and artificial flavors, making them a less healthful choice.  While premium chocolate may cost a little more, treating yourself to it is a splurge you deserve! 

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the… Click To Tweet

Delight In Dark Chocolate

Stirring the souls of chocolate lovers is cutting-edge research demonstrating the health benefits of chocolate.  Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure, protect the brain and increase blood circulation.  The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids, therefore milk chocolate has minimal antioxidant activity and white chocolate has none.  Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power and note that high-quality dark chocolate will contain only one type of fat, cocoa butter.  Chocolate with a higher cacao content has less sugar, making it easier to be satisfied with less as added sugar in chocolate can mask other flavors and leave you craving more.

Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao or cocoa solids for the most antioxidant power! Click To Tweet

Slowly Savor

Quickly biting into chocolate and swallowing without fully experiencing its pleasures is a disservice to your senses. The essence of mindfulness is exploring details such as the aroma of the chocolate cupped in your hand and the smooth, sheen appearance.  Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on your tongue and swirl it around in your mouth to bathe all of your taste buds.  Note the texture as it may be silky, velvety or creamy.  The longer you allow the chocolate to melt, the more flavor notes will emerge.  Just like a fine wine, premium chocolate has different flavor stages including a beginning, middle and a finish.  Enjoy becoming a chocolate connoisseur and remember that no matter what you’re eating, the mindfulness skills you build will carry over! 

A weight loss program that’s different

lthough each individual’s weight loss goal is different, the aim of treatment remains the same – to improve your health and quality of life. Here are four reasons why the medical weight management program at Houston Methodist will help you reach your goal.

1. What is medical weight management? Why is it better for me?  

Medical weight management is a physician-supervised weight loss program that allows patients with a BMI of 30 or above to safely and rapidly lose excess weight through a very low calorie diet (low carbohydrate/high protein).  

Shenese lost 105 lbs. with the help of the Houston Methodist Weight Management Center.
Shenese lost 105 lbs. with the help of the Houston Methodist Weight Management Center.

Prior to entry, a physician will review a patient’s detailed history, physical, blood work and electrocardiogram (measures heart’s electrical activity) to ensure that it is safe for them to be in the program. Thereafter, a physician will adjust the patient’s prescription medications for safety, address diet related symptoms, review monthly blood work and ECGs with every 50 pounds of weight loss to ensure continued safety. The physician will monitor medical safety as part of the comprehensive team approach to weight loss that includes weekly nurse, dietitian and counselor visits. 

2. Why is it important that I see a medical weight loss or obesity specialist?

An obesity medicine physician completed additional education, training and testing to become board certified in weight loss medicine. Certification as a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) signifies excellence in the practice of obesity medicine and distinguishes a physician as having achieved a high level of competency and understanding in obesity care.  Only about 1500 physicians in the U.S. and Canada have completed the process to become board certified in obesity medicine by the American Board of Obesity Medicine. 

3. How long will it take for me to lose weight? How much weight will I lose? 

Typically, patients in the first phase of our rapid medical weight loss program, called New Beginnings, can expect to lose two to five pounds per week. Patients most often stay in this program until they achieve a reasonable goal weight. However, some may choose to enter the transition phase, called My Journey, before their goal weight is achieved, and can expect to lose one to two pounds per week, depending on the plan they choose with the dietitian.  

4. I’ve tried a lot of programs, why is this one different? How will I ensure that I am successful at this?

Numerous studies have shown that successful weight loss, and maintenance of weight loss, is best achieved through a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach that addresses the medical, nutritional, behavioral and physical activity contributors to excess weight. Through adherence to the rapid medical weight loss program, patients will achieve significant weight loss through scientifically proven methods.  However, our ultimate goal is to help patients maintain the weight loss for the rest of their lives by providing the education, support and tools necessary to sustain their new healthy lifestyle. 

Learn more about your weight loss options at our open house events. Join an open house event at one of our Houston area hospitals. Learn about your weight loss options and enjoy a healthy cooking demonstration. Attendance is free; however, registration is required.

Learn more about the Weight Management Center and the programs it offers.

Making sense of health certifications

As if the world of nutrition wasn’t confusing enough, throw in the terms registered dietitian (RD), registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), and nutritionist and you may need some help figuring out where to begin when it comes to health certifications.

Whether you have prediabetes, you’re thinking of having or have had a gastric bypass surgery or you have digestive problems, going to the right person can make all the difference. So, what is the difference and whom should you go to for expert nutrition advice?

The term nutritionist is unregulated, and is a self-designated term anyone, regardless of education, training, background or credentials can use. While some nutritionists have an undergraduate degree in nutrition, others have completed a quick online program and many simply just have a personal passion for food and weight loss. Be careful!

The term nutritionist is unregulated and can be used by anyone Click To Tweet

What about a registered dietitian compared to a registered dietitian nutritionist? They’re exactly the same. In 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics added the term and is giving each RD/RDN the option of deciding which title to use.

Be careful who you consult with about diet. While nutritionists may be able to assist, the term is unregulated and self-designated. A healthier option is to work with a dietitian or certified health and wellness coach.

A dietitian is the only credentialed, licensed nutrition professional. They have a minimum undergraduate degree in nutrition from an accredited institution, have completed a supervised practice through an accredited internship, and passed a national board exam. Every step of their training is overseen by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and once becoming an RD/RDN, dietitians are required to undergo continuing education and work to renew their registration every five years.

What about other health and wellness areas? You always want to look for someone who has training and credentialing from a reputable organization. For example, does your personal trainer have a certification? Likely, but it isn’t required depending on where they work. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is considered the top personal training certificate, while other reputable organizations include ACE, AFFA, and NASM.

In the health coaching arena, anyone can call themselves a wellness coach, but where did that title come from? Houston Methodist Wellness Services has certified health and wellness coaches (CHWC) that undergo training through Wellcoaches, a program accredited by the International Coach Federation and requires certain undergraduate degrees, classroom instruction, practical experience and exams before credentials are earned. Certified health and wellness coaches, like dietitians and certified personal trainers, are also required to do continuing education to maintain their credentials.

So, before you trust your health and wellness to just anyone, be sure to ask about his or her background so you can proceed confidently. At Houston Methodist, we have certified and licensed massage therapists and acupuncturists, registered dietitians, ACSM-certified personal trainers and certified health and wellness coaches ready to help you achieve your goals.

Don’t be fooled by fat-free foods

It’s been said that the best things in life are free. Many people think when they see fat-free foods that they have hit the jackpot. They can eat as much as they want because the item contains no fat.

Unfortunately, foods labeled fat free, reduced fat, low fat or sugar free do not equate with calorie-free and contain additives like salt, sugar and chemical fillers that make them less than healthy.

If you want to keep off unwanted pounds, you need to look beyond the claims on the front of the package and take a critical eye to the nutrition label and ingredients. Labeling a food item fat free is a classic bait-and-switch marketing strategy the food industry uses to try and get consumers to forget about the calories.

Labeling a food as fat free is a tactic companies use to get consumers to forget about calories Click To Tweet

Kari Kooi, RD, LD, with Houston Methodist Wellness Services, says reduced-fat products often contain the exact number of calories per serving as full-fat versions.

Reduced-fat foods have a perceived healthy image that researchers have dubbed a “health halo.” Studies have shown that people tend to eat twice as much or more of these foods.

Nutrition facts
Don’t just look at fat content. You need to also pay attention to serving size and other macronutrients such as carbohydrates.

Manufacturers often set the serving size for packaged foods to be unrealistically small (a serving size of Oreos is three cookies, ha!), so it’s important to look at the number of servings per container.

For example, chips and drinks offered at the checkout lane in the grocery store appear to have one serving, but often times have two or more.

Instead of looking for products with health claims such a low fat, Kooi suggests concentrating on eating healthy fats from whole foods such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. Monounsaturated fats found in these foods have been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and boost HDL or good cholesterol in the blood.

Omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and anchovies also have been shown to lower LDL. She says that fat plays a strong role in feeling satisfied after eating, thereby helping with appetite control and should make up at least 30% of our daily calories.

She also recommends avoiding trans fats as much as possible as it promotes inflammation in the body. Products that contain partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list have trans fat.

When it comes to sugar free, it’s extremely important for people with diabetes to be smart label readers. Sugar is a carbohydrate and foods such as sugar-free cookies or candy are not free of carbohydrates. A person with diabetes may be unintentionally consuming large amounts of carbohydrates, which could lead to increased blood glucose levels.

The best way for all of us to avoid being fooled by reduced fat and sugar-free labels and putting on those unwanted pounds is to shop for nutrient-dense foods that don’t come in a package and therefore require no labeling.

What does organic food really mean?

Go to a mainstream grocery store today and you’ll see an expanded section specifically for organic food. Perhaps you’re looking for the latest nutrition bar you saw at a coffee shop; you’ll likely be directed to the “health” foods section filled with organic, extra virgin expeller-pressed coconut oil, gluten-free rice flour pasta and Annie’s organic children’s snacks.

Though organic foods have been available for over three decades, lately they have been taking the market by storm. Organic grocery sales continue to grow faster than conventional sales and the 2014 Farm Act has mandated $160 million be put toward organic farming production. Interestingly, despite growing demand, the number of farms seeking organic certification has leveled off.

Chart via United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service

Consumers often associate organic with healthy, but organic certification focuses solely on how crops are grown and animals are raised. While some organic products are more nutritious, others aren’t. Organic cookies typically have just as much fat and sugar as regular cookies, and those organic potato chips are still deep-fried. Let’s take a look at what organic really means.

Organic labeling standards vary by item, but the general goals of organic farming are to conserve natural resources, promote biodiversity and use only approved substances in production. If you see the USDA organic seal on an item, this means it was produced by a certified organic farm shown to follow organic guidelines such as banning synthetic pesticides, participating in crop rotation and using responsible irrigation. Each year, the USDA requires at least 5% of all farms with organic status be audited for compliance. The USDA organic seal means the following for each item: 

Organic crops like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains

Farmers did not use synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, genetically modified organisms or sewage sludge.

Organic beef, pork, and poultry

Animals have access to outdoors and raised on 100% organic feed free of animal byproducts like skin and dried blood; no growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs; no irradiation.

Organic certification focuses solely on how crops are grown and animals are raised Click To Tweet

Organic eggs

Hens have 100% organic feed and are free of growth hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. Hens do not have to be cage-free or free-range.

Organic milk

Cows have access to outside at least 120 days of the year and have at least 30% pasture diet; no growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs.

There are several reasons why organically-grown crops may be more nutritious for us. Without the aid of synthetic chemicals, plants must build up their own strength to fight off pests. These healthy, natural plant defenses are then passed to humans when consumed.

Organic fruits and vegetables also tend to stay on the vine longer, ripening naturally and building up nutrient stores. They are typically grown in more nutrient-dense soil, which also helps the plants to soak up more nutrition. Think about how much better a homegrown tomato tastes compared to one from the supermarket. Some of the same factors making that garden tomato so delicious also make it more nutritious!

Not ready to pay the premium for organic? Look for U.S.-grown produce and avoid imports. Since the Food Quality Protection Act was passed in 1996, risk from American produce has dropped dramatically. You can also buy organic on selected items that are more likely to be contaminated. Skip organic bananas since the thick peel protects the fruit, but strawberries carry a higher risk. 

Each year the Environmental Working Group puts out their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. It highlights conventional foods that have the most and least pesticide residues.

Making the traditional tamale healthier

or many households of Mexican descent in the United States, the weeks following Thanksgiving aren’t only about wrapping gifts but also about wrapping tamales. The savory treats – traditionally prepared with generous amounts of lard and lots of salt – don’t have to be unhealthy. 

talames-recipeFor those unfamiliar with the delicacy, a tamale is made with seasoned, cooked pork surrounded by cornmeal, or masa, encased in a corn husk (or banana leaf). It is then steam cooked. Tamale recipes can vary greatly with the only mainstays being the masa shell and the husk. Unfortunately for those who enjoy tamales, they are often not very healthy.

“My grandmother would use an entire carton of lard when preparing the masa. The amount of salt is also extensive as salt is often added to the meat as well as the masa,” said Jennifer Pascoe, a registered nurse in the Houston Methodist Hospital Weight Management Center, who educates patients on how to eat healthier and maintain special diets. “Salt should be limited in all diets especially those with diabetes, hypertension, and congestive heart failure. The recommendation is to not exceed 2 grams per day.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. Latino populations face even higher risks of heart disease as a result of their preponderance for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

There are many substitutions that can be made to make the traditional tamale healthier, according to Pascoe. In addition, you can use a healthier recipe for tamales.

“For starters you can buy a leaner cut of pork or at the very least trim the fat off the meat before cooking, and then make sure you drain the fat off the meat before preparing the mixture,” Pascoe said.

Here are more tips for healthier tamales:

  • Replace the pork with a healthier alternative such as ground or shredded white chicken or turkey meat, beans or vegetables. Popular vegetarian tamale recipes call for cooked vegetables such as serrano peppers or spinach, black or pinto beans, and low-fat cheeses.
  • Replace lard or vegetable shortening with vegetable oil.
  • Replace the pork drippings some people use to flavor the masa with chili powder since it’s the chili powder that gives the pork drippings some of its flavor.

Pascoe said the biggest challenge to removing the lard or vegetable shortening in the mixture will be spreading the masa on the corn leafs, which will take more time and patience but will be worth the fat and calories saved.

There are many substitutions that can be made to make the traditional tamale healthier Click To Tweet

“If you know you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you probably shouldn’t eat traditional tamales,” Pascoe said. “For these people I would recommend preparing a dozen or so healthy tamales, which use all of our healthy substitutions.”

And everyone should limit the amount of tamales they eat regardless of how they’re prepared.

Healthier Chicken Tamales
Yields 16
A healthier version of the traditional chicken tamale
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253 calories
26 g
60 g
5 g
25 g
1 g
216 g
358 g
2 g
0 g
4 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
Amount Per Serving
Calories 253
Calories from Fat 46
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5g
Saturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 60mg
Sodium 358mg
Total Carbohydrates 26g
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 2g
Protein 25g
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
  1. Filling
  2. 2.5 pounds chicken breasts
  3. 3.5 cups water (or enough to cover chicken in pot)
  4. 1 teaspoon canola oil
  5. 1 medium onion
  6. 1 medium bell pepper
  7. 3 garlic cloves
  8. 1 tomato
  9. 2 teaspoons cumin
  10. 2 teaspoons dried chili peppers, crushed
  11. 1 teaspoon low-sodium salt
  12. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  13. 1/2 cup tomato paste
  14. Masa
  15. 4 cups masa corn flour
  16. 4 teaspoons canola oil
  17. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  18. 2 teaspoons chili powder
  19. 1/2 teaspoon low-sodium salt
  20. 2 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking the chicken)
  21. 18 to 20 dried corn husks
  1. Place the chicken breasts in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring pot to a low boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the meat is cooked.
  2. Remove chicken from the broth (set broth aside) and let it cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and chop. You may add a little broth to keep it moist.
  3. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion, garlic and peppers until tender. Add the tomato, chili peppers, pepper, cumin, and low-sodium salt. Add tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth and simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir the mixture as needed.
  4. Puree the sauce in a food processor or blender and return it to the pan. Add the shredded chicken, stir and let the mixture simmer for 10 to 15 minutes on low heat. Allow to cool.
  5. Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of hot water for about 20 minutes. Make sure they are pliable.
  6. Prepare the masa mixture by combining all ingredients and mixing until the mixture clumps together. Add broth as necessary to make the masa pliable. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute. Divide the masa mixture into 16 equal balls.
  7. Drain and rinse the corn husks. Pat dry and keep covered with a warm damp towel. Tear two or three corn husks into 1/4 inch strips to use for ties. You will need 16 corn husks for the tamales.
  8. Flatten the corn husk on a flat surface. With a spoon or spatula spread one ball of dough over the husk leaving about a 1-inch margin on all sides. You may add a few tablespoons of warm chicken broth to the masa to make it more pliable and easier to spread. Add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of filling to the center. Roll up lengthwise into a cylinder and wrap with the corn husk. Secure the ends by tying with a strip of husk. Repeat with remaining dough, filling the remaining husks. You may freeze the tamales to cook at a later date or steam cook immediately.
  9. Place the tamales in a steamer basket and set over one inch of boiling water. Cover tightly and reduce heat. Steam the tamales between 30 to 45 minutes until cooked. Check frequently and replenish water as needed. Frozen tamales should be thawed for at least one hour and will require a longer cook time.
Healthy Knowledge

5 nutrition tips for a healthy holiday plate

When do the holidays start for you? Is it October 1st when you pull out the fall decorations and start dreaming of pumpkin spice lattes? Perhaps it’s Halloween when candy, and the excuse to eat it, is everywhere. Maybe you even hold off until the office Thanksgiving potluck, but even then your holiday season may last from mid-November until the first full week in January.

Holiday season and the plethora of sweet and savory indulgences that tags along may extend for almost a quarter of the year! If you’re tired of the painful, uncomfortable feeling that may accompany your holiday meals and don’t want to start 2015 several pounds up on the scale, consider some of these ideas for a healthier plate.

Simplify. Whether you’re cooking or not, try reducing the number of dishes. Do you really need green bean and asparagus casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta salad, turkey and ham? It’s a lot easier to shop, prepare, and serve six or seven dishes compared to a dozen, plus you’ll help your guests limit their plates, too.

Baked sweet potato
Eliminate sugary extras from dishes. For example, instead of a sweet casserole, bake your sweet potatoes and garnish them with herbs.

Eliminate the extras. Does the sweet potato casserole really need a full cup of brown sugar plus marshmallows and crushed-up corn flakes? Try baked sweet potatoes with butter, brown sugar, and nuts on the side. This gives your guests control.

Careful with carbs. Thanksgiving is a carbohydrate nightmare! Rolls, stuffing made with more bread, cranberry sauce, applesauce, potatoes in all forms and colors, perhaps some crackers and cheese beforehand, and before dessert has even begun you’re well over what your body needs. Instead, take an extra slice of turkey, a lean meat, and pile up the vegetables.

Holiday meals have lots of carbs. For a healthier plate, opt for more lean protein and vegetables Click To Tweet

Be selective. Whether it’s setting parameters around snacking on treats in the break room, like only indulging on Fridays, or deciding to have either alcohol or dessert but not both, make your food choices wisely. Save room for the dishes you really enjoy and skip the ones you know aren’t a favorite.

Leave space. Try to leave white space on your plate as you’re adding on your favorite dishes. Don’t let your food touch and don’t pile on layer after layer. Leaving space on your plate will help leave space in your stomach, too!

So much goes into a healthy holiday, from the right food choices, to sticking with your exercise routine. Remember the holidays were originally just a day or two (not several months) and it’s refreshing to start the New Year feeling healthy and satisfied rather than lethargic and disappointed. The energy you’ll get from successfully navigating the holidays will be worth those changes you’re considering!

Looking to cut back on the carbs during the holidays? Check out our low-carb Pinterest recipe board

Follow Houston Methodist’s board Low-Carb Recipes on Pinterest.