By Carrie Quimby
The holiday season has arrived and for many of us that means FOOD and lots of it! The average American gains 1-2 pounds over the holidays and those of us with overweight issues tend to gain more, around 8 pounds, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This small amount of weight gain doesn’t sound like a serious issue, except that despite our best intentions and New Year’s resolutions, we don’t lose it after the festivities are over. Year after year, these few pounds do add up significantly to increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, hypertension, and diabetes. Why not prevent that weight gain this year? You can still enjoy your favorite holiday foods without adding to your midsection with some planning and a careful eye on portion size.
- Never attend a party or food gathering hungry. When you are hungry, you don’t care about eating smaller portions or making smart choices. A small snack with a glass of water a half an hour before the event will fill you up enough to avoid feeling ravenous and keep you from inhaling your food when you arrive.
- Go for a smaller plate whenever available, and the same goes for bowls and beverage glasses. Studies show that the larger a dish, the more we will eat, even when we believe we are limiting portions. Fill the plate half full of lower calorie vegetables and fruits and there will be less room for the higher calorie items. Protein foods such as shrimp cocktail, seafood, lean beef, turkey and small amounts of cheese will keep you full and your appetite controlled.
- Limit or avoid the high calorie beverages such as eggnog, milk shakes, and creamy alcoholic drinks. Although not as calorie dense, a 16 oz bottle or glass of juice or soda adds 200-260 calories to a meal or snack. The appetite control center in your brain does not recognize the calories you consume in liquid form and they add up quickly. A wine spritzer or light beer will be your best bet calorie-wise at the bar, and club soda with lime and diet sodas are calorie free. Moderate alcohol consumption (one serving for women, two for men, in one day) is recommended for health considerations and to control those empty calories.
- Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that it is full.
Put your fork down between bites and chew slowly. Contribute to the conversation between bites. You may be surprised to find how little it takes to feel full.
- Offer to bring a dish and make it something lower calorie and healthy so you’ll have at least one item you can depend on. A raw vegetable platter with a yogurt based dip, cut-up fruit, roasted vegetables, whole grain crackers and hummus are great ideas.
- Be choosy about sweet indulgences and select only those that are special to you. At up to 700 calories a portion, decadent desserts add to holiday calorie overload quickly. Choose your favorite, take a SMALL portion on a small dish, use a utensil, sit at a table, and savor it slowly. Sip your favorite hot beverage between bites.
- Keep those endless seasonal treats out of sight, off your desk, and away from the kitchen counter or living room table. At the office, cover up that box of chocolates or cookies, or put them in a drawer, or even in another room. Studies show that food in plain view is very hard to resist, and the more variety in those treats, the more we tend to eat.
- Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry as high calorie treats are particularly tempting when your stomach is growling, and once they are home, they will tempt you each time you walk into the kitchen. Formulate a grocery list and stick to it. Jumbo sized packages cost a little less per portion, but we tend to eat more from large packages. Dividing food into smaller units with plastic bags or containers after opening will reduce this tendency.
- Maintain or add physical activity. Even a few extra laps around the mall, store or parking lot can help. Being active puts you in a positive mindset and you will feel more in control. Buy yourself an early holiday gift of a pedometer and wear it daily. Strive to become an active person by working up to 10,000 steps daily. Start a new family tradition with a walk after dinner. Dance the night away at the party, or play some peppy holiday music and dance at home – alone or with friends or family. Gyms are often deserted by the other members who are too busy for their normal routine this time of year, so take advantage and start a new healthy habit.
Carrie Quimby, RD, CD, is part of BMH’s Nutrition Services staff and is a registered dietician with certifications in Adult, Childhood and Adolescent Weight Management.