Food is an important part of holiday celebrations at this time of year. There are special foods and social pressure from family and friends in the mode of "try some of this" or "I made this especially for you." Events often revolve around food, which can be tempting.
The trick is to be prepared and to avoid the anxiety that comes from trying to diet while simultaneously trying to celebrate. A common mistake is to vow to eat nothing at an event, a setup because you either feel guilty when you eat or deprived when you don't. However, you can enjoy yourself and still maintain a healthy diet. Consider these tips for fully enjoying the holiday season without gaining weight:
Focus on weight maintenance as opposed to weight loss during the holidays. This is not the time to lose weight. Maintenance of your present weight is a big enough challenge during the holiday season. Don't set yourself up for failure by making unrealistic goals for yourself.
Plan ahead. Think about where you will be, what foods will be available and what foods are really special to you, as opposed to those you could probably do without. Ask yourself how you can fit them into your day's calorie goal. Make a plan of action. It's much easier to deal with a difficult social eating situation if you've already planned for it.
Be physically active every day. Often, busy holiday schedules (or lack of structured schedules) bump people off their exercise routines. Exercise, especially aerobic (brisk walking, jogging, running, biking or swimming) can help relieve stress and burn up extra calories. Try to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week. If you don't have 30 minutes, remember even something is better than nothing.
Eat a light snack before going to holiday parties. Don't skip breakfast and lunch in order to save your entire food intake for an event as it's never a good idea to arrive ravenous to a function where there's food. Not only are you more likely to overeat, but you will be less likely to resist tempting high fat and high calorie foods. Have a salad, a piece of fruit or a container of light yogurt before you go.
Pace yourself. Be the last to start so you are the last to finish. Count to 10 before digging in and watch everyone else eat first. Eat slowly, put your fork down between bites and put your hand on your lap. Take sips of water between bites too. If you are the last to finish, you will be less likely to go back for seconds.
Watch the alcohol. Alcohol is high in calories, increases your appetite and reduces your resolve to make good food choices. Avoid hard alcohol with high calorie mixers and sweet drinks. Alcohol is empty calories and increases your triglycerides and stored fat on your body which slows your metabolism down. Avoid or limit alcohol intake.
Don't stand near the food table. If you are too close to the food you will be more likely to eat more. Use a plate so you can see what you are eating and count it. If there are no plates use a napkin and don't just eat off the serving platter. You want to be aware of what you are eating.
Keep perspective. Enjoy the non edibles, like conversation, ambience. Focus on other things rather than the food: Uniting with family and friends, sharing laughter and cheer. Remember if you do eat more than planned, be careful not to consider it a catastrophe and throw the towel in. Bounce back and make a conscious decision to exercise more and eat less the next day. You have to be realistic. Last year at this time you may have gained weight over the holidays; this year you just want to maintain your weight over the holidays.
Barbara Schmidt, MS, RDN, CDN, of New Canaan, is a nutritionist and is the Nutrition Lifestyle Program specialist at Norwalk Hospital. She consults with patients privately and in group settings in her eight-week weight loss program, "Transformations." To learn more about "Transformations," call (203) 852-2178. The next session begins Jan. 14.