It is possible to celebrate
-- without gaining weight --
this holiday season
By: David Luehr, M.D.
For many, the holidays are a time to get together with family, friends and loved ones -- to enjoy each otherís company and good cooking. All too often, however, ďgood cooking,Ē means high-fat holiday feasts, tempting homemade desserts and calorie-laden eggnog. With the increased food availability and festive atmosphere, it can be easy to lose sight of regular healthy eating habits and gain a few unwanted pounds during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.
This doesnít have to be you. There are ways to celebrate without gaining weight this holiday season.
Eat slowly. It sounds simple, but it works. Our bodies need about 20 minutes to realize that our stomach is satisfied. Also, by eating slowly, youíll probably actually eat less. Others at the table will be finished with their food and you will still have some on your plate. If youíre feeling full, stop eating.
Keep moving. Donít let your busy holiday schedule slow down your exercise routine. Make time for regular exercise -- even if it is just a daily walk. If the weather gets too cold for a walk, go to the mall and walk there. Rain or shine, itís recommended that we all walk 10,000 steps each day. You donít have to be responsible for counting these one by one. A pedometer is a device that counts your steps for you. Use one to monitor your activity level, not only during the holidays, but all year long.
Donít skip meals -- especially breakfast. Start the day with a healthy breakfast, preferably one containing some protein, which takes longer to digest and helps our bodies feel satisfied longer. Skipping meals not only slows down the bodyís metabolism, it also makes it much more likely that we will binge between meals when hunger overtakes us.
Donít deprive yourself. Itís no fun to munch on a spinach salad when everyone else is enjoying turkey with all the fixings. Indulge in small helpings of your very favorite high calorie or high fat foods. Just keep the portions small. For instance, you can let yourself have a bite or two of Aunt Nellyís homemade cheesecake; just donít eat a whole piece.
Donít try to start a new diet during the holidays. Itís just too tempting a time of year. If at all possible, wait to make weight loss your New Yearís resolution.
Make smart choices. The white meat of the turkey has fewer calories than the dark meat, and the skin is full of fat. Go with white meat whenever possible. Gravy and butter add fat and calories to foods. Avoid them.† Before the big family meal, munch on the raw vegetable tray (avoid the high-fat dips) and youíll be less hungry later when confronted with the plate of mashed potatoes and gravy.
Take small helpings. There is literally more food available during the holidays -- at work, at home and at parties. Big meals abound, as do appetizers, desserts, cookies and potlucks. Youíll probably be eating more often than usual. So, donít fill your plate. Take a small helping of your favorite foods. Leave the rest. Remember, the next meal isnít that far off.
Drink liquids (especially water) during the day and with meals. Water can help the stomach feel full and it can also help to increase metabolism. Other drinks of choice include herbal teas, fat free milk and unsweetened fruit juice.
Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol can stimulate your appetite and reduce your willpower, making you more likely to go overboard. In addition, alcoholic beverages are often high in calorie content and low in nutritional value. That is, they provide you with nothing but empty calories.
Control your environment. If you are at a party with a buffet table filled with foods and desserts, position yourself on the other side of the room to avoid nibbling. At home, place cookies and bars out of sight to decrease temptation.
Plan ahead. If you have a big party on Saturday, watch what you eat during the earlier part of the week so youíll be able to indulge in that extra dessert and not feel so guilty. Donít starve yourself on the day of the big party, however. Instead, eat regular, healthy meals. Going to a holiday gathering when youíre extremely hungry will make you more likely to binge.
Itís always easier to gain weight than take it off. If you make a conscious effort to watch what you eat, control portions, exercise regularly and indulge in only your favorite high-calorie foods, you can keep weight gain in check during the next six weeks. By making healthy choices this holiday season, you may not have to worry about resolutions and losing that extra weight in the New Year.
Dr. Luehr is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.