Eat, Drink and Be Wary
Some tips to help you avoid packing on the holiday pounds
SATURDAY, Dec. 8, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Overeating can be as much a holiday tradition as mistletoe and eggnog. And so are those attempts to battle the Christmas bulge, which often backfire and result in elusive New Year's pledges to shape up and slim down.
So how can you survive the season with your waistline intact? With reason and moderation, nutrition experts say.
Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make in anticipation of a big holiday meal is to skip meals or eat very little ahead of time. This only creates an inflated appetite, experts say.
"When you starve yourself all day in anticipation of a big meal or party, you'll often wind up eating much more than you would have otherwise," says Diane Quagliani, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
"And on top of defeating the purpose of getting fewer calories, you're probably not going to feel great later on," she adds.
A better approach, Quagliani says, is to have smaller meals and maybe a small snack before the party or dinner, so you're not ravenous.
Adds Nelda Mercer, another ADA spokeswoman and a registered nutritionist: "It's much better to eat smaller amounts more frequently than to sit down and eat huge meals. If you have a healthy snack, you'll simply feel better, and you get to use more calories in a more balanced way."
When confronted with a party tray full of delectables, it's best to step back and assess your appetite, says Quagliani.
"It's a good idea to stop for a minute and listen to your inner cues to see if you're really hungry, because a lot of times we get into the routine of just taking it because it's being offered. But if you're not really hungry, you shouldn't be having it," she says.
Weight loss advisor Julia Ross, author of "The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry and End Food Cravings, Weight Problems and Mood Swings," offers a somewhat unconventional tip for preventing overeating: Make sure to get enough light.
The reduced levels of light in winter have been linked to reduced serotonin levels in the brain, she says, and that can cause winter blues -- sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder. One way the body tries to compensate for that is through food, she adds.
"Eating starchy carbohydrates and sweets causes a chain reaction that can boost serotonin, so your body can try to compensate for the lower light by overeating," Ross says.
She suggests getting plenty of bright light, whether at home or work, by using a 200-watt bulb in a fixture near you to suppress winter carb cravings.
In addition, Ross says, nutritional supplements such as the amino acids Glutamine and 5-HTP, plus a multi-vitamin, also work to curb food cravings, not to mention feelings of depression.
Here are a few more tips from the ADA on healthy holiday eating habits:
- Be realistic. Don't try to lose weight during the holidays -- this can be a self-defeating goal. Instead, strive to maintain your current weight.
- Be active and keep moving. Walk the aisles of the mall, go ice-skating with your family, or plan a party that involves fitness, like bowling, skiing, dancing or hiking.
- Choose lower-calorie party foods. Raw vegetables with a small amount of dip -- just enough to coat the tip of the vegetable -- are a good choice. Or try boiled shrimp or scallops with cocktail sauce or lemon. Go easy on fried appetizers and cheeses, though.
- Budget your eating throughout the day. This doesn't mean skipping a meal, just eating less.
- Position yourself away from the food table at parties. Focus on the people at the party rather than obsessing about food. Survey the many food choices and allow yourself the three most-appealing items; serve yourself a single moderate portion of each item.
Another great way to regulate your appetite and burn off calories is through exercise.
"Everyone's busy around the holidays, and sometimes that offers a good excuse not to get any exercise in," says Mercer. "But I recommend just trying to squeeze it in whenever you can and not worrying about keeping a schedule."
Quagliani adds that exercising around the holidays also offers the additional benefit of reducing that inevitable heaping of holiday stress.
What to Do: Visit the American Dietetic Association for more healthy lifestyle nutritional tips. And try the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for more information on weight loss and control.