Between the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, biscuits, and pie, you're apt to consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during a typical holiday gathering. Don't make your waistline pay the price for merrymaking. Here, experts share 14 tips for getting your fill of family gatherings between Thanksgiving and the New Year and actually losing weight—and you won't have to skip out on turkey or pumpkin pie.
Make a plan
Before putting a single morsel on your plate, look at all of the offerings and decide which dishes you most want to eat. "Pick your favorites and take small servings of those foods; skip anything that isn't a must-have," advises Mary Beth Sodus, registered dietician and medical nutrition therapist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Making a plan for which foods to pick lets you indulge in your favorites and avoid extra calories from mindlessly choosing everything that's available.
Pay attention to portions
"The holidays are not a license to overeat," says Victoria Shanta Retelny, a Chicago-based registered dietician and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. Serving up smaller portions saves a lot of calories. Worried eating less will leave you feeling deprived? Researchers at Cornell University fed study participants small or large portions of chocolate, apple pie, and chips and found that both groups felt equally satisfied with their indulgence—even though those given smaller portions ate half as many calories.
Pick a different plate
You'll eat 30% fewer calories if you scoop holiday favorites onto a smaller plate, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. "A smaller plate gives you the illusion that you're eating more food," explains Sodus. Fill up a salad plate instead of a dinner plate and your waistline will benefit.
It's a mistake to "save up" calories for the party, according to Retelny. "You'll show up starving, head straight to the buffet table and start eating everything in sight," she says. To keep hunger in check, eat a small meal or snack with protein, carbs and a healthy fat before heading to the festivities. You'll be able to make smarter choices if your stomach isn't grumbling.
Instead of over-indulging with second servings of your favorite food, Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University, suggests sticking with a single helping and saving the leftovers—and calories—for an encore meal the following day. "You'll spread the calories and the enjoyment out over two meals," she says.
To keep your weight in check, step on the scale every morning—even during the holidays. A study published in the Journal of Obesity found that those who weighed themselves daily were more likely to lose weight and keep it off than those who stepped on the scale less often.
Chewing food 40 times instead of 15 times led participants in one study to consume 12 percent fewer calories. "We eat so fast," says Blake. "Chewing forces you to slow down, enjoy the taste of the food and be more mindful of how much you're actually eating."
The longer you mill around the buffet table, the more likely you are to keep nibbling. "If you're standing at the buffet table talking, you'll keep reaching for food and won't pay any attention to how much you're eating," Blake says. To avoid overeating, make your selections and walk away.
Those "hunger pangs" might be a sign that you are dehydrated, not famished. Sodus recommends reaching for a glass of water before sitting down to dinner. "You'll eat less if you're well-hydrated," she says.
It wouldn't be Christmas without Aunt Edna's sweet potato casserole and no Hanukkah meal is complete without Bubbe's brisket. While you might not want to mess with family favorites, consider switching up some of the sides: using less bread and more Brussels sprouts in stuffing, swapping cream for coconut, and trading out turkey drippings for vegetable oil for a cholesterol-free gravy.
When you raise a glass for a holiday toast, opt for wine or a low-cal mixed drink like vodka soda over sugar-laden festive cocktails. Retelny suggests wine spritzers: Mixing wine with sparkling water cuts the amount of wine—and calories—in each glass in half and keeps you hydrated. Remember to keep a lid on liquid calories; among those who drink, 10 percent of their daily calories come from alcohol, according to research published in BMJ.
The holidays are not an excuse to ditch your exercise routine. If the festivities keep you from getting to the gym, sign up for a 5K walk/run, go sledding with the kids, or plan an family football game to burn calories. "Even 10 minutes counts!" says Sodus.
Eat multiple courses
A multi-course meal can actually help you consume fewer calories. Soup and salad courses served before the main dishes can help you consume up to 11 percent fewer calories when the turkey and stuffing are served, according to research published in the journal Appetite. "Focus the first courses and fruits and vegetables, which will fill you up and have a significant impact on the number of calories you consume," Blake notes.
Focus on the festivities
The holidays aren't just about the turkey and fixings. Sodus believes that the more time you spend with loved ones and more emphasis you put on counting your many blessings—and less time fixating on a single meal—the more likely you are to keep your calorie consumption in check. "It's a time to celebrate all of the good things in your life, not just the food," she says.
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