Outwitting holiday weight woes
Simple tips can prevent you from feeling like a stuffed turkey
By Amy Cox
Planning ahead and moderation are key to preventing holiday poundage, say experts.
(CNN) -- Does holiday feasting leave you feeling like a stuffed turkey? It doesn't have to be that way, say experts, as long as a few simple guidelines are followed.
"Focus on maintaining your weight," advises Lisa Drayer, a registered dietician and director of nutrition services with Dietwatch.com. "It's not realistic to think that you're going to lose weight. But if you can maintain your weight, then that's pretty good."
Despite the popular notion that most Americans gain five to 10 pounds over the holidays, research reveals these numbers may be overblown. A National Institutes of Health study found that most people only gain about a pound during the six-week interval between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. The problem is that the small amount of weight is not taken off the rest of the year, and over decades, can add up to an unhealthy number on the bathroom scales.
"And the real trouble comes when people continue 'holiday eating mode' after the holidays," says Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Obesity Center at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center and author of "Weigh Less, Live Longer."
But keeping those few pounds away doesn't mean avoiding all holiday fun. Heading into the season with realistic expectations and a plan for moderation is key, say the experts.
"The idea is not to say, 'Oh, I can't have these foods I look forward to each year,' " Drayer explains. "There's no need to deprive yourself. Just keep it in check and budget yourself with your treats."
Aronne agrees. "If there's something you only have once a year, indulge, but in moderation. Keep the special things special." He also encourages people to keep the focus on family and friends during the holiday season, not food.
Planning ahead can help keep holiday binges in check. Lighter, low-calorie meals a day before or a couple of days after can negate a party feast of rich, high-fat foods, counsels the American Council on Exercise, a non-profit fitness advocate organization.
But don't starve or 'save up' for those big meals, warns Drayer.
"That's one of the worst things that you can do," she says. "[Eating sensibly beforehand] and keeping the blood sugar in check means you won't feel starved and when the meal finally comes ... you're not feeling so hungry that you can't wait to dig in."
Well-meaning friends and relatives can also hamper intentions for pound prevention, Aronne says, and many feel pressured to falling into unhealthy eating routines.
Drayer says to counteract this with three little words: "No, thank you."
"It's like the aunt who made the pecan pie just for you or the host who feels like she hasn't met your needs unless you've had thirds," Drayer explains. "These well-intentioned gestures can sabotage your best efforts to maintain a healthy weight. So what I say is try to rehearse the words 'No, thank you' in a firm, but polite tone."
And if that still doesn't stop a desert-laden Aunt Betty? "Take a small bite and throw it out when she's not looking!"
Hobble the gobble
Here are some other strategies to avoiding holiday weight gain and making good eating choices during festivities, according to Aronne, Drayer and the American Council on Exercise.
• Select only special treats or favorite foods at a buffet. Let others have the standard fare that is available throughout the rest of the year like potato chips and nuts, advises the ACE.
• Wear tight-fitted clothing. "The idea is that if you wear tight-fitted clothing, you're more likely to feel it when you've eaten enough food," Drayer says. "Wearing a belt can help, too."
• "Destroy the plate." While at a sit-down dinner, the leftovers may be tempting as guests linger over the table. Drayer says making leftovers on your plate unappetizing can prevent eating out of boredom or because it's just there. "Pour salt or pepper on it, anything to make you not want to eat it," she says. "[It's] something that you can do that's within your control without having to get up and leave the table."
• Veg out. Aronne says filling up on vegetables and low-calorie drinks or water when first arriving at an event can curb urgings later.
Above all, Aronne tells people with an eye on their weight to keep a positive outlook.
"If they get through the holidays [without gaining weight], they'll have a feeling of progress over into the new year, and they can build on it."