In the war against overeating, the holiday season presents a virtual minefield of tempting sweets and sumptuous feasts that can result in unwanted pounds.
Faced with these dangers, do we just hoist the white flag of surrender?
“No,” say dietitians. Arm yourself with strategies to sidestep the kind of indulgence that leads to remorse when January rolls around.
The pervasive “overabundance of treats and food” makes healthful holiday eating difficult, said Mandy Burbank, registered dietitian with the Public Health Department in Grand Forks, N.D.
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“Whether it’s the treats that are brought to the workplace or the tradition of getting together to make Christmas cookies, there’s an overabundance of calories. And it’s around us all the time,” she said.
“It’s hard to say ‘no’ when you walk into the break room and see all those treats,” she said.
The risk of gluttony lasts “from mid-November to the first of the year,” Burbank said, “when that New Year’s resolution attitude kicks in.”
Here are suggestions for getting through the holidays without gaining weight:
• During the holidays, “sneak in more physical activity naturally, like parking in another lot that is farther from work,” Burbank said.
• On the job, don’t keep candy at your desk, she said. You’ll cut 125 extra calories a day by placing the dish out of sight or away from your workspace.
• Plan ahead, said Jennifer Haugen, registered dietitian with Altru Health System in Grand Forks. “Have healthful foods like low-fat yogurt available so you don’t go to the break room and have to have that brownie.”
• Try to include fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks, she said. Choose foods that are high in fiber, vitamin rich, more filling and have fewer calories.
• Stay hydrated throughout the day, Burbank said. “The body doesn’t distinguish between hunger and thirst,” she said. Drinking plenty of water “can stave off the hunger pangs that come with trying to restrict calories.”
• Before a party at night, reduce your calorie intake throughout the day. Before the party, eat a snack from two food groups, Burbank said. “Eating something high in fiber and something high in protein will keep you feeling fuller longer.” She recommends eating a piece of fruit with low-fat cheese or whole-grain bread “so you’re not famished” when you go to the party.
• Don’t skip meals with the idea that you’re going to “save up” calories for later, Haugen said. “If you don’t skip meals, you’re more likely to make wiser choices.” When you’re hungry, high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods “will look twice as tempting,” she said.
• Use a smaller plate at the party, Burbank said. “You will eat less.”
• Drink one calorie-filled beverage followed by one noncaloric beverage, such as water. People are not aware of the calories they consume from beverages as much as those from food, she said. “So, it’s a pretty good place to overindulge — even with fruit punch, and especially if they’ve added 7-Up to it or a calorie-full soda, which often times they do.”
• Give nonfood gifts that encourage physical activity, such as passes to a local water park or bowling, she said. Or, instead of food, give a service, such as free baby-sitting.
Food is part of our culture, Burbank said. “It’s tied into all those feelings that go with it. We like to treat ourselves. We like to treat each other.
“It’s hard to break those habits,” she said. “They need to be not broken, but maybe adjusted a bit. … Enjoy those traditional foods that you look forward to, just eat less of them.”