Holiday Defensive Dining, Part 1

It’s often said that the key to winning a football game is a good defense. The same can be said about holiday eating. By devising a good defensive plan now, you can survive the holidays without the usual 2-to-3 pound weight-gain creep. In contrast, a holiday meal that’s eaten without restraint can exceed 1,500 calories—which, for a sedentary dieter, is a whole day’s calorie allotment!

In this entry, I’d like to give you advice on how to design your own fool-proof game plan for healthy holiday eating.

Some Tips for the Holidays

No dieter wants to start the New Year with excess poundage on board. Here are some strategies to avoid runaway holiday weight gain.

Practice “crowding out.” “Crowding out” refers to displacing high-calorie, low-volume foods from your standard menu by beginning to choose high-fiber, low-calorie ones. This means, for example, always starting your meals with a large salad or portion of fruit, then proceeding to your cooked vegetables and high-fiber starches, and finally to the meats. In other words, by the time you get to the calorie-rich, heavier foods at the end of a meal, you are already partially full from your fiber-rich primary choices.

Have a Plan. At a party buffet, before rushing over to fill your plate, stand to one side for a moment and survey the spread. Choose your favorite foods and skip your least favorites. If you are eating at a restaurant, log on to its website before you set out and evaluate the menu options. This will help you to avoid impulse eating.
Check in with your appestat, the area in the brain believed to regulate appetite and food intake. That is, make sure that your gut and your brain are communicating effectively. Establish certain logical eating rules for yourself. For instance,
Always sit down for meals and snacks. 

  • Always sit down for meals and snacks.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Eat until you are satisfied but not overstuffed.
  • Savor your favorite holiday treats but eat small portions.

And remember: After a meal, at least 20 minutes must go by before your blood sugar rises and your brain gets the message that your stomach is sated.

Control your social calendar. Try especially to say “yes” to food festivities that occur during breakfast or lunchtime. Why? Portion sizes tend to be smaller at those times, and food items are occasionally less fat-laden. If you can take control of at least two-thirds of your daily eating calendar during the holidays, you’ll have a much better likelihood of managing your holiday guzzling and gobbling.

Hydrate before and during a gathering. Gentle reminder: One of the first symptoms of dehydration is a loss of concentration and willpower. Be sure to have at least 16 ounces of water prior to any socializing that's going to involve food—and intersperse the occasion with regular drinks of water.

Hydrate while imbibing alcohol. If you are drinking alcohol, alternate a sip of water or seltzer with a sip of your cocktail or beer. You certainly don’t want to plunge into a bacchanalian holiday feast with your food focus out of focus.

And finally…

Curb your (food) enthusiasm. Here’s a tip from the food behaviorists. Whenever your give in to a food temptation, you are training yourself to do just that: give in. In contrast, when you resist a food temptation, you are training yourself not to cave in. The more you practice resisting the foods that tempt you the most, the easier you will find it to contend with holiday temptations.

In a future blog, I will talk about some of the ways you can modify the ingredients in your favorite holiday recipes to save oodles of calories and grams of fat.

©1996-2012, Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved. Disclosure: The information provided here is compiled by The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with editorial supervision by one or more of the members of the faculty of the School of Medicine pursuant to a license agreement with Yahoo! Inc. under which the School of Medicine and its faculty editors receive licensing fees and payment for services rendered within the scope of the License Agreement. Johns Hopkins subscribes to the HONcode principles of the Health on the Net Foundation.

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