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How to Win the Holiday Battle of the Bulge


The fall and winter holidays are some of the most festive times of the year – and the most fattening. Just thinking about traditional holiday meals can put your appetite in high gear. The temptation to overeat is lurking at every holiday table. By New Year’s Day, many of us are avoiding the scales, wearing elastic-waist pants and thinking about joining a health club to undo the damage to our waistlines. The average American gains at least five pounds during the winter holiday period. Weight gained during the six-week holiday period accounts for most of a person’s total weight gain over a year’s time.

Thankfully, there is a happy medium between starving yourself from now until New Year’s and stuffing yourself silly. You can enjoy the best the season has to offer without sacrificing your waistline. The following tips will help you master the art of sensible eating over the holidays and beyond.

Navigating the Buffet Table

The same sensible eating habits that apply throughout the year can be followed during the holidays when you’re putting the final touches on your own menus, or as you head out to grandma’s house or the office social.

Plan ahead for a healthy menu
EggsWhen planning your menu, cut back on butter or margarine. Eat fewer foods that contain “hydrogenated” or partially hydrogenated oils. Switch to vegetable oils and trans fat-free (or soft) margarines. Season dishes with onion, celery, or herbs instead of extra salt. Trade the stuffing for wild rice pilaf (or at least offer this as an alternative). For cakes, casseroles and baked macaroni, use egg whites or an egg substitute instead of whole eggs, skim milk instead of whole milk, and choose low-fat cheeses.

Keep to a regular eating schedule as much as possible
Skipping a meal makes you hungrier later in the day when you’re more likely to go for the holiday snacks and goodies.

Eat Before You Leave
An empty stomach is an invitation to binge at a holiday gathering. Keep yourself from filling up on fatty party foods by eating a small meal or a low-fat snack before you head out to the festivities.

Fill Up on Healthy Fare First
You may not have had a say in the menu but you do have control over what you put in your mouth. Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant in fiber, which makes you feel full. They are also low in calories and fat-free, which means you can eat as much as you want – as long as you don’t smother them with creamy or cheesy dips.

Go Low and Lean
Shave calories and fat from your dinner plate with a few simple changes. Keep the traditional turkey on your menu, but remove the skin and don’t drown it in gravy.

Note: One tablespoon of gravy made from turkey drippings can contain up to 70 calories; one ladle as much as 800! The same goes for creamy dips, salad dressings and cheese sauces. Use these high-calorie items sparingly or substitute them with lower-calorie items like yogurt or cottage cheese dips, tomato salsa or vinaigrette dressings. Use lemon juice to flavor vegetables instead of cheese sauces.

Enjoy Smaller Portions
Be sure to watch your portion size. Fried foods, sweets and other high-calorie treats don’t have to be off limits, just eat them in smaller portions. You may find that a taste is all you need to satisfy a craving.

Don’t Drink Your Calories
Alcoholic beverages are heavy on calories and light on nutrients. Alcohol stimulates your appetite and reduces your self-control, so if you enjoy a few cocktails you may end up eating more than you planned.

Step Away From the Buffet
Hanging out by the party platter sets you up for grazing. Don’t hover over the buffet – take a plate and move away.

Aside: Pace your eating and spend time visiting. You’ll eat less and feel good about what you have eaten.

Dashboard Dining

With millions spending long hours on the road this holiday season to reach family and friends, the family vehicle becomes a popular spot for “dashboard dining.” Follow these simple tips for healthy eating and to ensure that your travel plans aren’t ruined by food-borne illness.

  • Pack fruits and vegetables as a healthy snack. Whole fruit, dried fruit, single-serving applesauce, carrot and celery sticks and other cut-up vegetables are great snacks when you are on the road.
  • Single-serving boxes of cereal, trail mix, energy bars, and granola bars are easy items to pack and store.
  • For protein sources, pack peanut butter (for sandwiches or with celery or apples), nuts, and single-serve packages of cheese and crackers.
  • Don’t forget the bottles of water – it is important to keep hydrated!

Stay Active

Physical activity is one of the best gifts you can give yourself during the holiday season. Over the busy holidays, sneak in exercise by:

  • Walking before or after your holiday meal.
  • Picking up your walking pace while shopping in the mall.
  • Parking at a distance from the mall entrance to take advantage of a little exercise.
  • Use the stairs instead of the escalator.
  • Limit time in front of the television – remember, it is a time to visit with family and friends.

Regardless of the amount of snacks and sweets you eat during the holidays, if you try to include some exercise during your daily routine you’ll be much better off. The trick is to keep your metabolism going. Staying active will also help you keep all those extra holiday stressors in check.


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