Avoid Packing on Pounds This Holiday Season

It’s a fact: Holidays can be fattening. A recent study showed it’s not only Americans but folks in Japan and Germany, too, who gain some girth around national holidays.

In the U.S., many of us put on 1 or 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That’s not much of an increase and wouldn’t matter if we lost the extra weight quickly. Unfortunately, researchers say the excess pounds typically hang on — so you could end up 10 to 20 pounds heavier in a decade, thanks to feasting during the year-end holidays.

If you are determined to stay in shape or you’re trying to drop a few pounds, you may be hoping self-control kicks in when you’re confronted with holiday goodies. However, coming up with a plan that lets you have your cake and eat it, too (in moderation), might be more realistic.

Synergy visited with nutrition expert Andy Yurechko, RD, for advice on how to enjoy the delicious tastes of the holidays while using strategies to keep your waistline under control.

“Avoiding favorite foods during the holiday season can lead to withdrawal — causing you to give in to cravings and then eat more than you wanted,” says Yurechko, a dietitian at the Augusta University Digestive Health Center. “Plan to enjoy the foods you love! But reduce the caloric ‘damage’ by reducing portion sizes of favorite foods. Stick to a single plate of appetizers if they are out in the open. The same applies to the main meal — stick to a single plate.”

Drinking water before heading out to a party is often touted as a way to reduce your appetite. Yurechko says it’s true water can help fill your stomach a little before a meal.

“But a better strategy may be to eat a small snack containing fiber or protein,” he says. “These foods stave off hunger because they take longer to break down. Eat an apple with water or grab a handful of peanuts before going to the party.”

When you are confronted with lots of choices at a party or festive meal, aim to eat a higher volume of foods that contain fewer calories, Yurechko advises. For example, fruits and vegetables (with minimal dip) contain fiber that will help you feel full and also are loaded with nutrients. Another tip for cutting down on calories: If you are eating vegetables with dip, spoon some dip onto your plate to control portions.

“Nuts also have fiber, protein and healthy fats,” he adds. “Watch portions of nuts, however, as they contain more calories from the healthy unsaturated fats.”

In addition, Yurechko advises everyone to remember that many dishes and drinks are loaded with far more calories than most of us realize. For example, just 1 slice of pecan pie has an average of 500 calories. If you opt for a piece of pumpkin pie instead, you’ll consume about half as many calories.

Other dishes often served during the holidays sound healthy and non-diet busting because they are made from vegetables. But beware.

“Candied sweet potatoes involve taking healthy sweet potatoes and packing on sugar and marshmallows,” Yurechko says. “Green bean casserole takes a low-calorie vegetable and turns it into a fat fest with cream of mushroom soup and fried onions. Also watch out for heavy dips like avocado or sour cream. Avocados do contain healthy fats, but they pack on many calories per tablespoon serving.”

If you slip up and go overboard on the dip, chocolate chip cookies or other goodies, is there any way to regroup — or have you blown your diet to smithereens?

“Do not feel bad about overindulging a bit,” Yurechko answers. “The holidays come only a few times a year.”

To compensate for some slip-ups, he advises working in exercise — it will reduce hunger and burn calories, too.

“Walk the dog, run with a friend, do some home-based aerobics or play sports,” Yurechko says. “The key is to do something you enjoy.”

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