Nov. 11, 2004 — Your leftover Halloween candy is almost gone from your cupboards, and next thing you know, the holiday season with all its sweet temptations will begin.
However, all those holiday parties and office gatherings laden with scrumptious food and drink don't have to mean the end of your weight loss plan. It's still possible to enjoy the bounty and not feel deprived of your favorite holiday dishes, says Connie Diekman, director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
"The first rule of thumb for eating at holiday gatherings," Diekman says, "is never go to the party hungry. Have a little something healthy before you go — a piece of fruit, half a sandwich or a glass of milk. Be sure when you arrive you aren't overly hungry."
Then when you arrive at the party, Diekman suggests doing a survey of the situation and figure out how you want to approach the buffet table, if there is one.
"Plan on getting your food off the buffet table and then moving away from the table to eat," she says. "Use a plate, and don't stand at the table and pick at the food. Seeing what is on the plate begins the process of realizing how much food is enough for you."
When you do fill your plate, keep in mind that two thirds of the food on it should come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, Diekman points out. The remaining third can be meats, sauces, and high-fat and high-calorie foods. "Try to concentrate on loading up on those things that are going to fill you up as opposed to the high-calorie, empty foods."
Another tip that many people find helpful is to decide on one or two things they have to have — special holiday foods — and then enjoy them in moderation. "Once you've eaten that special food, it's much easier to get more salad or fruit, because you've allowed yourself to have what you want and you've exercised control without it feeling restrictive," Diekman says.
If you find it difficult to resist trying everything on the table, go ahead. Just make sure you take smaller portions. "It's perfectly fine to do that, as long as you don't gorge yourself. Try some of everything if you have to, but do it in moderation," she says.
"In truth, the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year is not all that long when taken in the context of an entire year," Diekman points out. "What people shouldn't do is worry too much and start limiting lots of foods, especially if it's a once-a-year food. If you cut out those things entirely, you'll just end up eating more. Don't cut out those foods, just shift to smaller portions."
Limit alcohol, but not exercise
Alcohol can be a large part of the holiday party atmosphere. "People need to remember that alcohol does drop blood sugar so it will cause you to eat more. Trying to space the drinks is key. So is trying to eat while you drink as opposed to just drinking," Diekman says.
She suggests trying to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. "You will look like you are still in that festive party mode but you aren't getting all the alcohol."
The other big component to maintaining a good weight during the holidays is exercise.
"People are so busy during this time of year that they cut out exercise," Diekman says. "Exercise is a great way to combat holiday stress and it gives you some balance if the eating is a little out of hand. After you've eaten a big meal, let your food digest and then get out and move around. Take a walk. Try not to sit on the couch all day long."
Follow these simple tips, Diekman says, and your diet plan should remain intact right through the New Year and beyond.
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