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Pace your holiday eating

 

With the holiday season officially launched, temptations of all sorts spring to life. Each of us is probably susceptible to one or another. Some spend way too much, some drink way too much and way too many of us eat way too much. 

Not surprisingly, getting out of debt and curbing alcohol intake are high on the list of the 10 most common New Year’s resolutions. 

However, because there are so many variations on the theme of food — lose weight, eat healthier, get fit, give up sweets, give up snacks — resolutions relating to what and how much we eat make dropping a few or more than a few pounds the classic resolution made, and, too often, broken.

And the holidays — with family gatherings, parties with friends, parties at work, all to some degree revolving around food — can wreak havoc on the waistline. 

Popular wisdom has it that Americans typically gain 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but, as Lisa Cook, RN, BSN with VNA Northwest notes, “a New England Journal of Medicine study puts the figure at one additional pound on average during the holiday period. Still, a pound is a pound, and if it’s not pared away some time during the year, that’s 5 pounds five years from now.” 

And let’s not even think about 20 years from now.

A smarter and easier way to keep a resolution, and one that, obviously, has to be made toward the start of the holidays, not the end, is simply this: resolve not to be a pound heavier by Jan. 1. 

“Don’t try to lose weight,” Cook said. “That’s almost doomed to failure at this time of year. 

But it’s not that difficult to maintain your current weight if you keep a few simple things in mind.”

First of all, realize that you must consume an additional 3,500 calories a week or 500 calories a day over your current food consumption to gain one additional pound. That gives you a little leeway. No one gains a pound by eating a cookie or even a piece of cake. But eating a half dozen cookies and a piece of cake every day, plus richer and more fattening foods that seem to be within easy reach wherever you turn, is going to add up to more than a pound.

The trick is to pace yourself. Enjoy that slice of cake today. Don’t have another one tomorrow. 

It’s all in balancing an indulgent day with a day where you consciously eat lighter. Don’t skip meals, though. If you arrive at a party hungry, you’re likely be downing canapés and party mix at an alarming rate. 

Instead, have a small snack before your party — a piece of fruit, some raw vegetables or a small piece of reduced-fat cheese will take the edge off your hunger.

When faced with a buffet table loaded with luscious food, take a moment to stand back and plot your course of action. Choose only your very favorite foods and take just a small spoonful of each — it’s the first bite that is the most pleasurable anyway. Try to include some vegetables or fruit, or both. Don’t linger near a table laden with candies, nuts, chips or other high-calorie nibbles.

If you’re the host or hostess, why not try some easy and tasty ways to cut down the fat and calories in the food you prepare for your guests? Refrigerating the stock or pan juices you use to make gravy will make it a cinch to skim off the fat. 

Turkey stuffing that goes easier on the bread and heavier on aromatic vegetables such as carrots, celery, mushrooms and onions, moistened with non-fat stock, is a healthy alternative so flavorful your guests will never guess it’s good for them. 

For dessert, have some fruit-based selections, even chocolate-dipped strawberries, alongside the ultra-rich cheesecake.

Beverages pile on the pounds, too. While a white wine spritzer or champagne clock in at under 100 calories for a 4-ounce glass, and mulled cider, or a smallish glass of white or red wine at a respectable 125 or so calories, a hot buttered rum packs a whopping 292 calories, spiked eggnog 391 and just 4 ounces of Irish cream liqueur 407. 

The drink that really deserves a firm “No, thanks” is an 8-ounce White Russian at an astounding 715 calories. 

And aside from excess calories, alcohol can also lower inhibitions and dampen your resolve to be careful about what you eat.

Keep in mind, too, whether hosting a gathering or taking part as a guest, that the holidays are a stressful time for many people, and for some of us the loneliest time of the year, when all the good cheer just makes it worse. 

The sight of particular foods and their tantalizing aroma can awaken memories of happy times in the past or of dear ones who are no longer here. Those who have a year-round tendency to turn to food for solace when stressed or sad can have a particularly hard time controlling the urge to overeat at this time.

Most importantly, be conscious of what you eat. Mindless eating is one of the real potholes on the road to eating sensibly year ’round. 

“Don’t forget exercise,” Cook said. “It helps avoid weight gain and is a stress-reliever, too.” A brisk 10- or 15-minute walk twice a day will help a lot.

Headquartered in Bantam, VNA Northwest (www.vnanw.org) provides home health care and hospice services to residents of 19 communities in northwestern Connecticut. Cyd Emmons is a communications consultant to not-for-profit organizations.

 

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