There’s the turkey. The dressing. The ham and the green beans, the casseroles and candies, the pie and the family and the indigestion. In short: the holidays.
Welcome to the battle of the bulge.
It’s the same dilemma for millions of us every year at this time. How can I enjoy the holidays and not go up a size (or two)?
Debra Strong, director of UAB’s EatRight Weight Management Services, and Beth Kitchin, assistant professor of nutrition sciences in the UAB School of Health Professions, say it’s possible to enjoy the gifts of fine food this month and not watch your physique round out in the process.
How can we achieve that with all of the pie within arm’s reach?
“Don’t eat mindlessly. Eat mindfully,” Kitchin explains. “Think about the things you really enjoy and that really matter to you.”
Strong says that means skip the bread. Skip the crackers. Skip the mashed potatoes. You can eat those things any time of the year. Instead, eat Aunt Sally’s casserole that you only get to taste once a year. Grab that piece of Uncle Larry’s special fudge and enjoy it.
“It’s not the time to eat normal everyday food,” Strong says. “Personally, I’d rather spend my calories on the fudge or specialty dish you only have a chance to eat during the holidays.”
The next key, both Kitchin and Strong agree, is portion size.
Don’t overdo it, piling the plate as high as it can go. Gaze at the spread available, and see what it is you really want to eat. See what you truly value.
“Really, you should do one plate and one plate only,” Strong says. “It is hard sometimes because you have so many options. If there are a bunch of items you want to eat, get a tablespoon portion of each dish you want. It’s better than going back for a second plate.”
“The holidays are a good time to develop the skill of learning to eat small amounts of those things that are high in calories and high in fat,” adds Kitchin.
Another area in which people often fall prey to empty calories comes is that of holiday drinks; eggnog and mixed drinks such as cosmopolitans and martinis will make you pile on calories in a hurry.
“Some of those drinks can have 300 to 400 calories per drink,” Strong says. “That’s a plate of food. Which one means more to you? One of those drinks or food?”
Kitchin says red wine and beer are the best bets for you if you plan to drink alcohol. She says 5 ounces of red wine contains about 70 calories. A 12-ounce beer has 150 calories.
But, Kitchin cautions, go light on the alcohol if you are watching your weight.
“Always pace yourself with a glass of water or a diet soda in between alcoholic drinks,” Kitchin says. “That will slow you down a little bit and keep you from drinking too many high-calorie beverages.”
There are many things we can do this holiday season to stay on track.
Socialize away from the table. “Everyone congregates in the kitchen or near a table,” Strong says. “Move the conversations to the living room. And if you have to have something in your hand, make it a glass of water or other non-caloric drink.”
Share the pie. “Go ahead and eat a piece of your favorite dessert, but if you can share it with someone, do it,” Kitchin says. “Remember portion size.”
Don’t skip meals. Saving up for the big dinner is a bad idea. “You don’t want to cut back and then binge,” Strong says. “That can be the start of a really bad cycle.”
Find a way to engage in some physical activity. It could be the annual football game or a walk before or after dinner to look at Christmas lights. “If you have a regular exercise program, stay on it,” Kitchin says. “It will keep you focused on your weight and your healthy eating behaviors.”