Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: How to Stay on Track During the Holiday Season
Courtesy Harley Pasternak
Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.
Turkey day is on the horizon, heralding the start of the holiday season. I love to celebrate with friends and family and enjoy a good meal as much as the next person, and always look forward to this festive time of year.
As a nutritionist, I regularly advise my clients on how to enjoy this season without abandoning their normally healthy eating and fitness habits. It’s perfectly possible to have fun during the holidays without spinning out of control. Overindulgence may be all too common, but it’s not inherent in celebrating any holiday, including Thanksgiving. You can have a delectable meal celebrating the fall harvest without feeling as stuffed as the bird on the table. Ditto whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa — or all of them.
However, Thanksgiving can set up a downward spiral for the rest of the holiday season, showing up as an extra five lbs. (or more) around your middle by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. Then comes the inevitable New Year’s resolution to get back on the wagon, lose those extra pounds and resume an exercise regimen. I see this with too many of my clients year after year. It’s time to break that vicious cycle.
Here are some of my top tips and favorite healthy recipes for the season:
1. Be selective.
Whether you’re at a party or a family feast, don’t feel the need to sample everything on the table — fill your plate with healthy, filling options like roast turkey and veggies (skip the gravy) and then a little bit of only your favorite treats. If you’re only lukewarm on sweet potato pie, don’t waste the calories by sampling it! Opt instead for a small slice of the pumpkin pie you’ve been dreaming about, and then savor it!
2. Alcohol: Empty calories aren’t the problem.
There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or a cocktail during your holiday parties, but just be careful. While, yes, alcohol is empty calories, it’s not the major reason why it’s a holiday diet-killer. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, even when we don’t realize it, so we end up eating more than we normally would. If you do decide to imbibe, keep it to one drink, and opt for a glass of wine or a clear liquor (like vodka) with a sugar- and calorie-free mixer like club soda. And don’t be fooled by tonic water — it actually has just as much sugar and calories as soda.
3. Don’t let yourself get too hungry.
Many people fast the day of Thanksgiving or a big party, knowing they’ll be having a hearty mid-afternoon or early evening meal. Not a good idea! Instead, have a protein-rich breakfast and then a snack an hour or two beforehand so you don’t find yourself so ravenous that you scarf down every appetizer before you even sit down to dinner. I always recommend eating a palmful of almonds an hour before a big event. Their combo of protein, fiber and healthy fat will keep you from starving.
4. Keep that vacation mentality in check.
When we’re on a vacation from work or school, we tend to take vacations from our otherwise healthy lifestyles as well, but we’re doing ourselves a great disservice by doing so. Letting it all go to pot just allows us to spiral further into over-indulgence and makes the post-holidays hump all the more difficult to get over. Keep getting your 10,000 steps in every day, and keep making healthful decisions, and you won’t be confronted with the holiday ‘hangover’ that has plagued you in years past.
Here are some of my absolute favorite classic holiday recipes — but with a healthy twist!
Something Savory: Siggi’s Spinach Dip
This recipe is named for my friend Siggi Hilmarrson, who hails from Iceland and is the founder of the Icelandic Milk and Skyr Company, which makes Siggi’s skyr, a strained yogurt. Skyr is similar to Greek yogurt, but is higher in protein and lower in sugar. To save fat and calories, but keep all the taste, I use plain skyr instead of a ton of other ingredients, including cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream and mayonnaise.
One 5-oz. package of frozen chopped spinach
1 cup Siggi’s nonfat plain yogurt (or plain Greek yogurt if skyr isn’t available at your grocery store)
¼ cup basil pesto
Salt & pepper, to taste
1. Thaw the frozen chopped spinach and squeeze dry.
2. Place in a food processor with Siggi’s yogurt, basil pesto, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well blended. Adjust seasonings, as needed.
3. Serve with sliced carrots and broccoli and cauliflower florets, or your other favorite raw veggies.
Something to Bring to the Party: Green Beans with Toasted Almonds
Traditional green bean casseroles are laden with butter and oil. This is a healthy alternative that is a super-easy but elegant addition to any table. Plus, fresh green beans are so much better than canned ones!
1½ lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed (I like the slender ones)
1½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. butter
Salt & pepper, to taste
½ cup slivered or sliced almonds
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, and add green beans. Cook green beans until tender but not soft (about five minutes). Drain beans in a colander, return the same pot to the heat and reduce to medium-low. Melt oil and butter in the pan, and add shallots, sautéing until they just begin to brown. Add the drained green beans back to the pot and toss in the shallot/oil mixture until evenly coated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving platter.
3. Spread the almonds evenly on an ungreased cookie sheet. Place in oven and bake, stirring often, until just golden brown (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool.
4. Garnish green beans with toasted slivered or sliced almonds just before serving.
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Something Sweet & Seasonal: Pumpkin Spice Smoothie
This smoothie is perfect for the morning before a big party. It is loaded with protein and fiber which will keep you satiated for hours. Plus, who among us doesn’t love pumpkin spice this time of year?
½ cup Siggi’s plain yogurt (or plain nonfat Greek yogurt)
¼ cup pumpkin purée (unsweetened)
1½ cups chopped, cored, unpeeled apple
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp. ground flaxseed
½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1. Add all ingredients to blender, then blend until you reach desired smoothness.