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Strategize for healthy holiday eating

Betsy Taylor
Nutrition Coalition

It’s well underway ” the holiday eating, drinking and splurging month. Oh, how can I survive, with my waistband intact, this notorious season of excess and temptation? The holiday classics fill my mind with hot cocoa and treats on the Polar Express, or “visions of sugarplums” (and dark chocolate chunks) dancing in my head before I can “dash away, dash away all” from the cupboard. But, you disdainfully dismiss my concerns, shaking your head, “Why, she’s a dietitian, she doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle with every pound.”

My response is quick and true to heart: I struggle like you, but I’ve learned a few tips that help me to balance the festivities and feasting and envision, in the New Year, still zipping into my pants.

Create a game plan to ensure you meet your goal. How many parties must you host or attend? How much weight are you willing to gain this holiday season? Write down your goal, display it prominently, and share it with friends and family. With support and encouragement, you will lessen sabotage episodes. Make a choice about every bite and sip. You will be successful if you keep your brain in the game.

A pound of weight gain represents 3,500 calories. Weekly, that’s an extra 500 calories per day. At a cocktail party, 500 calories equals: one 10-ounce glass of wine, 12 almonds, 8 black olives, two Buffalo wings, and who knows how little brie. “Wait,” you say, “that isn’t a splurge. That isn’t even half what can be consumed at a party.”

What is the strategy then?

Do you avoid eating during the day to “save up” calories for the party? No, this strategy backfires, with overeating at the party, and your body storing more fat from “starvation” mode. Do you leave the party to run on the treadmill for an extra hour or two? If so, count on a stomach ache.

So, it’s moderation to the rescue. Use the one-bite rule. Taste with discernment at a party. If it is delicious, savor it. If it is lousy, throw it away. Waste not one calorie on mediocre fare. Be cautious with alcohol. It contributes calories, increases your appetite, and lessens your resolve.

Limit yourself to one or two drinks (science recommends that women have less than one drink per day). Nurse that drink for the evening, and then move on to refreshing seltzer water.

Variety is the spice of your next strategy. Do not just eat platefuls of low-calorie foods: celery sticks, baby carrots, and cucumber slices. An overfull stomach, even from this low-calorie fare, can signal your body’s fat stores to store more calories, especially in midlife.

Instead, sample a variety of foods: lean protein, whole grains, olive oils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. A “handful” of solid food is the size of a full stomach. Grab a small plate, it leads to smaller portions.

Balance your day’s energy intake (food and drink), with your output of calories in physical work. Yes, it is all about exercise and healthy eating. Make a plan for daily exercise. Aerobic exercise boosts your basal metabolic rate for up to six hours after exercise. Strength training builds muscle mass, which also allows you to burn more calories. Schedule your exercise session as though it’s the most important appointment in your day.

Lastly, breakfast is a key strategy to realize your goals. “Break the fast” by eating whole grains and lean protein first thing in your morning routine. This kick starts your metabolic engine to start burning calories.

Then, eat small meals of carbohydrate and protein every three to four hours up until the party time. Do not go to a party famished. Taking the edge off your hunger is the ticket to successful, controlled nibbling.

Stop and take the time to plan out your strategy for holiday dining. Think moderation, variety, and balance. You are worth the time and effort. Together we will dance the New Year’s away in our favorite jeans.


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