Georgann Yara

Making a list

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According to a Duke University study, the average American gains five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And, according to the National Institutes of Health, most Americans never shed that new weight, which piles up over the years.

Suddenly, those few extra pounds have become a lot bigger.

But if you think that keeping the numbers steady on your scale means surviving on the vegetable tray and giving up nana’s flan, think again.

It is possible to have your cake and pie and tamales and buttered tortillas, eat them all too, and still maintain your waistline. Think small sample sizes of everything, not deprivation, says Kelli Jo Yee, a dietitian at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

“Keep the portions small. Eat more vegetables, but have something small of everything. Try to eat slowly and enjoy the moment. Remember to enjoy the company: it’s not all about the food, it’s about being with family and friends,” she says.

A big no-no is the daylong starvation to save up for the one big meal in the evening. Yee reminds her patients to eat a sensible breakfast and lunch to avoid giving in to the built-up hunger, which causes overeating. Also, the body’s metabolism will shut down, so when food actually reaches your stomach, it does so on a slower metabolism, which contributes to weight gain.

Unfortunately, most exotic dishes, while tasty, are laden with salt and unhealthy fats. Yee recommends using canola oil instead of lard, lean meats and taking it easy on the creamy sauces and shredded cheese. Alcohol is empty calories, so watch those margaritas, which contain a lot of sugar as well.

However, the mind has proven to be more powerful than the body when it comes to eating. Yee says studies show that external influences play a large role in how much and how quickly you consume food.

“Atmosphere can be everything. Eating near a fast eater can make you eat fast and more. If there’s fast music in the background, you’ll eat with the tempo of the music. If the lights are dim, you tend to eat more. If you’re going to have a conversation, get the food away from you because people tend to eat more while they’re conversing,” she explains.

“Set a boundary for yourself, set a limit of how many pieces of food you should eat. If you make a rule and say, ‘I can’t have this…’ then you are going to break it. If you tell yourself, ‘no,’ you are setting yourself up for failure. The goal is to be physically active, continue to exercise and see what the body does.”

Some helpful hints for navigating holiday events

• The goal is to maintain weight, not lose it, so don’t try to diet.

• Choose small portions but don’t deprive yourself. Watch the dips and load up on simple foods at the buffet line – veggies, fruits or shrimp cocktail. Beware of the salty items like nuts or pretzels, which leads to thirst and can cause you to reach for the soda or beer.

• Eat something before going to a party or any event with alcohol. Try drinking a glass of water before each alcoholic beverage. Plop a lime or lemon wedge in club soda if you feel uncomfortable without a glass in your hand.

• Keep track of hors d’oeuvres – they can pile up. Stash a toothpick in your pocket for each one you plan to eat, set a limit and
stick to it.

• Chew slowly or put your fork down after each bite to pace yourself.

• Center entertainment around non-food events such as renting a holiday movie, singing carols, or games.

• Focus on friends; try not to mingle around the food or beverage areas.

• Offer to bring a favorite low-calorie dish to parties, so you know there will be at least one “safe” item available.

• Walk as a family before or after a meal. At a party, get a group together for a brisk walk around the block.

Sources: WebMD and Duke University.

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