12 ways to avoid holiday weight gain (and still enjoy your eggnog)

During the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, nibbling on chocolates, sugar cookies, pumpkin pie seems to be a way of life.

The good news is it may not be as bad as you think. The average American gains about 1 pound during the winter holiday season, far less than the 5-8 pounds commonly believed, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But the bad news is that people often don’t lose the weight and it can pile on over the years. People who are overweight are more likely to gain 5 pounds during the holidays, according to the NIH.

Experts agree it’s perfectly fine — even healthy — to indulge during the holidays; just don’t go bonkers. No matter what you do, don’t starve yourself or skip meals because that only sets you up for grabbing the closest plate of brownies.

Lanier Dabruzzi, a dietitian and senior manager of public relations for the Southeast Dairy Association, suggests eating a healthy snack such as hummus or a cheese stick and vegetable sticks before leaving the house so that you don't show up to the party too hungry.

When you’re at a holiday party, scan the table of delectables to decide which three high-calorie foods you really want. Devote half of your plate to waistline-friendly choices such as sliced fruits and vegetables.

Elyse Sartor, clinical dietitian at Northside Hospital, said one way to ensure the party offers at least one guilt-free treat is to bring one yourself. Her go-to dessert and hostess gift is apples, honey, cinnamon and walnuts in a pretty basket.

And remember, all of those bites of food (broken Christmas cookies included) really do count. So do the wine, soft drinks and calorie-mother lode eggnog (which can pack 400 calories in one mug).

Another way to stave off weight gain is by exercising. Keith Kantor, a Norcross nutritionist and author of the book "The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice" (Effective Press $38.95), said even if you cannot devote the same amount of time to exercise as you normally do outside of the holiday season, try to remain active throughout the day. He recommends aiming for 10,000 steps every day, and rather than devoting separate time to exercise, counting steps can be done at the mall while holiday shopping, walking your dog, playing with your kids.

At the same time, don’t forget to get enough sleep. When you are sleepy, you are more likely to grab food for an energy boost.

Here are tips for keeping holiday eating under control:

  • Plan ahead. Before you go to the mall, slip a cheese stick and carrot sticks, or another low-fat snack, into your purse (or bag) to fight off temptations in the food court.
  • Don't skip meals. "Saving up" calories will lead to feeling starving when you most need to stick to your plan and apply self-control. Instead, stick to eating healthful, balanced meals and snacks with fiber, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein so that you can make wise decisions about holiday treats when the time comes.
  • Never go to a party hungry. Take the edge off your hunger by eating a healthy snack such as apple slices, yogurt or vegetable soup.
  • Drink plenty of water. And drink a glass before the party to help fill you up.
  • Bring your own guilt-free dish to a party so you know there's at least one you can splurge on.
  • Use a small plate so it looks full.
  • Remember, you can eat whatever you'd like, as long as it's in moderation.
  • Don't drink your calories. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all.
  • Don't hang out by the buffet table. Chatting beside it will only tempt you to graze.
  • If you want dessert, eat fewer calories during dinner and eat only the desserts you really want.
  • Before going back for seconds, wait 20 minutes for your food to "settle." You might feel full and lose interest in more munching.
  • Watch the stress. The holidays, while a great time to get together and celebrate with family and friends, can also lead to extra stress related to traveling, finances and family dynamics. Incorporate daily stress relievers through exercise, meditation, and avoiding waiting until the last minute to buy gifts and make other preparations for the holidays.

Sources: Elyse Sartor, clinical dietitian at Northside Hospital; Lanier Dabruzzi, a nutrition affairs manager for the Southeast Dairy Association; and Keith Kantor, a Norcross nutritionist and author of the book "The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice" (Effective Press, $38.95).

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