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Managing those holiday meals

Natalie Stephens is the first to admit dietitians don’t vault to the top of Google searches with their advice. That holds true when it comes to holiday bingeing.

“Dietitians aren’t flashy,” said Stephens, the lead dietitian in nutrition services at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “A lot of people aren’t running to hear a dietitian’s advice because it’s usually just sound, stable advice.”

So while Dr. Oz recommends his Holiday Detox Plan this year, Stephens simply wants you to be mindful and relax.

How should people approach a big holiday meal?

A holiday is a holiday. Enjoy it. If that means you might overeat, so be it.

For some people, one or two days is a legitimate concern. I work with a lot of diabetes and heart failure patients. For them, overconsuming might land them in the hospital. But most people don’t have that problem.

I’m not concerned if you celebrate five or six holidays a year. I get concerned when there’s some sort of celebratory over-consumption more than once a month. To me, that’s more of a self-control issue, and you need to think about your health priorities.

We hear about “pre-toxing” or “detoxes” around holidays to lose weight or even to get healthy in general. What are your thoughts on those?

They’re fad words. They’re headline-grabbing, and they make people read. I’m a skeptic on a lot of things. You’re just helping someone get rich. It’s not a well-thought-out program. So when I hear people recommending this great lemon-cayenne pepper water as a detox, it’s garbage.

“Detox” drinks? I hate that word. If you’ve ever had to watch someone detox from narcotics, it’s a horrible experience. I spent the beginning of my career at University Hospital East and we have Talbot Hall, a true detox program for people who have drug and alcohol addiction.

Your body detoxes on a second-to-second basis already. Your kidneys and liver are cleaning out your system. Just drink water, eat vegetables — you’ll be fine.

What about recipes that cut down on fat or calories to try to make a Thanksgiving meal magically lighter?

You don’t need to substitute fat-free everything in a recipe to make you think you’re healthy all of a sudden. You can’t just make those changes and have a good-tasting product. If you want to be healthy, look for an American Diabetes Association recipe, or American Heart Association recipe. They’re going to give you veggie-based recipe ideas that are generally lower in fat, higher in fiber and lower in sodium, and they’re going to hit health goals Americans are going for.

But if you just try thinking of the simplicity of the My Plate method, it’s not talking about calories or grams or anything. It’s just focusing on eating for optimal health: Is 50 percent of your plate fruits or vegetables? If not, change that up. It really is about mindfulness.

So what are your takeaways?

Be mentally prepared. Know what your weaknesses are and strategize around that. It doesn’t mean you’ll always make the best choice, but at least you’re thinking through it. If you know you’re probably going to overeat at a party, have something before you go, and make sure you’re eating fruits and vegetables.

The second thing is, set yourself up for success by bringing healthy options with you to a party. I focus on bringing something colorful and veggie-based, and generally those dishes get eaten. So you have to be that change. If you want to have more vegetables on your plate, you might have to bring them.

And third, maintain your normal eating patterns so you don’t overeat or overindulge. Have your normal breakfast, your normal lunch, and if you’re having that big family dinner at 2 or 3 p.m., you may be less likely to overeat.