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Holiday dieting strategies will keep you in the Zone

By Mary Perry

People tend to throw in the towel on healthy eating around the holidays. For some it may start as early as Halloween with all the tempting candy around, but for many the feasting often starts around Thanksgiving and just carries through to the New Year. Just because the leftovers, comfort foods, holiday parties and crazy shopping season don't leave much time for healthy eating and exercise, there are ways to start off the New Year without having to resolve to lose the weight gained during November and December. Here are some simple tips to navigate your holiday season and events.

  1. Plan Ahead
    Determine what events are likely to get you tripped up and plan your strategy in advance. This might include avoiding alcohol, sticking to lower-calorie appetizers, bringing a dish you know you can eat or just keeping portions small. This will prevent you from going overboard. Don't be afraid to taste things without finishing them. Consider having a Zone snack just before a party to reduce your appetite later on.

  2. Portion control
    Vowing to eliminate sweets or avoid tempting carbs may sound good in theory but can be brutally hard once you're at an event. Many people lose weight and keep it off with the simple strategy of portion control. Eat reasonably small portions, limit the foods you know you should limit, and don't stuff yourself.

  3. Find the balance between good and bad…moderation
    Most of us know our "trigger" foods, those foods we just can't seem to control our intake of, the ones that are so yummy yet lead us to feel guilty, tired, low energy, and wanting more. Abstaining from them all holiday season is unlikely, but keeping their intake to one or two events versus repeatedly throughout the season allows for a balance between moderation and overindulgence.

  4. Off-diet mentality
    The "on"/"off" diet mentality can get us in a lot of trouble. Why? As soon as you go off diet, you give yourself permission to go from a taste of the pie to eating the whole thing. Don't set yourself up for disaster. Try to eliminate the all-or-nothing mentality by keeping portions small and indulgences in check.

  5. Don't skip meals
    Having small meals throughout the day helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Skipping meals in an effort to bank calories for later sounds good in theory, but this leads to greater consumption and overeating. By keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day, you'll be surprised at the willpower you have to avoid tempting foods later.

  6. Use small plates when heading to the buffet
    A full salad-size plate looks like a lot of food and psychologically "feels" the same way. You can always go back for seconds or even thirds but doing so slows down the eating process, giving you more time to feel full. Or, if you do use a large plate, fill 2/3rds with vegetables.

  7. Add some spice
    If you pop something pickled or spicy in your mouth, you may find your cravings for sweet diminish. It's okay to indulge the occasional sweet craving, but eat something spicy or pickled first, and you may find you no longer want to.

  8. Rule out thirst
    Often times water is replaced by caffeine around the holidays, leaving us mildly dehydrated and thinking we want food when in actuality we're just thirsty. Drinking water before a meal significantly curbs how much food we consume at the meal…. So drink lots of water. A slice of orange, lemon or lime will flavor the water and cut your cravings; flavored non-caloric seltzers accomplish the same thing.

  9. Go for walks
    A simple walk can be just the thing to increase your energy, reduce stress, and get your blood flowing. By being active in the morning, you'll improve your insulin sensitivity, making your body more ready to handle the calorie onslaught later that day and also eliminate some of the holiday stress.

  10. Keep some semblance of routine
    While the holidays get crazy, try and keep as close to your usual eating routine as possible. Grocery shop on the weekends so you have meals for the week, pack your lunch for work, and have your usual breakfast and snacks with you for when you're on the go. This will allow you to have energy to keep up with the holiday excitement, while keeping your waistline in check by limiting the amount you have to eat out.

  11. Veggies
    When you sit down to eat your holiday meals and events, reach for the green vegetables first. Eating fibrous green vegetables first will limit the total calories you eat for the duration of the meal. These vegetables are bulky, low in calories, and high in fiber. That translates to slow digestion, making you feel fuller sooner. Eat all you want of steamed green vegetables of your choice. The calories are low, the fat is nonexistent, and adding a vegetable to your plate will help prevent you from filling up on empty calories. Try broccoli, spinach, green beans, or any other non-starchy vegetable. Be careful of cream and/or fattening sauces with the vegetables!

  12. Desserts
    We understand that it may be difficult to avoid dessert altogether, so please pick just one and, if applicable, avoid the crust portion. For example, if you like pumpkin pie, eat the custard portion and skip the crust and whipped cream topping.

  13. Slowly Savor
    Eating slowly, putting your fork down between bites, and tasting each mouthful is one of the easiest ways to enjoy your meal and feel satisfied with one plate full of food. Choosing fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, salads, and other foods with lots of water and fiber add to the feeling of fullness.
    Spread out the food and fun all day long. After a big holiday dinner, consider serving dessert after a post-dinner group walk. Then, enjoy dessert while watching a movie or playing a game together.

    Mary Perry is a registered dietitian and researcher who serves as the clinical trials director for the Inflammation Research Foundation (IRF). Mary oversees all clinical trials, investigating the positive effects of anti-inflammatory diets in conjunction with leading universities and institutions worldwide.