One time of year that people find especially challenging is the holiday season. Research shows that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of Americans’ annual weight gain – and it continues through New Year’s. A study published in Nutrition Reviews found that half (51%) of the weight Americans gain all year is actually gained in the 6-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. People work hard on their diets year round–it’s always a shame when I see all their hard work reversed from just a couple holiday meals with family and friends. Big parties present even more of a challenge for most. However, with some guidance anyone can prevent themselves from overindulging at even the most tempting food-filled events of the year. Here are my six tips and tricks for navigating holiday parties:
Spoil your appetite. Never go to a party hungry. Contrary to popular belief, fasting then feasting is a guaranteed way to pack on the pounds. Instead, have a small, healthy snack that combines both fiber and protein before you go. Fiber and protein are the two nutrients that take the longest to digest, so they keep you feeling full for a longer period of time. By filling up before you go, you safeguard yourself from arriving in a ravenous fury of hunger, capable and ready to take down the first platter of mini quiches you see. Free of judgement-clouding cravings, you will be able to maintain composure when trays of tempting appetizers pass by and make responsible decisions about what you will eat as the evening progresses. Good pre-party snack ideas include an apple with a handful of almonds, high fiber crackers with sliced turkey or Greek yogurt and blueberries.
Dress for success. When scouring your closet for the perfect party outfit, look for items that are tailored and even a bit snug. It’s much easier to overeat while wearing loose fitting clothing such as sweats or anything with an elastic waist band. Slipping into fitted pants or a tight skirt will help discourage you from eating too much. Additionally, your bag choice for the evening can help prevent you from overeating too. When you carry a clutch instead of a purse with a strap, you have one less hand available to hold a plateful of pigs in a blanket. Have a cocktail too and look at that—no free hands to pop another stuffed mushroom in your mouth.
Be a social butterfly. Remember, you get invited to holiday gatherings for your charming personality, not your ability to clear out the buffet or lick all the plates clean. People often feel pressured to eat as not to be rude to the host, when in reality, there’s little chance your host would even notice that you didn’t try every single item. What is rude to your host? Not saying hello when you arrive and gobbling down all the food before any of the other guests can serve themselves. So, when you first arrive, do not situate yourself directly in front of where the hors devours come out or make a bee-line over to the buffet. Instead, say hello to your hosts, catch up with friends, or meet someone new. Once you’ve done that, then you can size up the edible offerings.
Scope the situation. Once you’ve said your hellos and are ready to eat, scan the full buffet and choose what you are going to have. Studies show that people who effectively manage their weight tend to scout out buffets and review their options before even grabbing a plate. Once you’ve scanned the buffet for your favorite items, if there are different size plates available, grab the smaller option (usually there is a salad or appetizer plate in addition to the entrée plate). Although seemingly inconsequential, using a smaller plate can actually impact how much you eat and how full you feel. First, our eyes play tricks on us. The same amount of food looks bigger on a smaller plate than it does on a larger plate so we feel fuller after eating it, despite eating less food. Also, studies show people eat more simply because more is on their plate. Smaller plate equals less food, and because it looks bigger, the difference in hunger is minimal.
Start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. For a visual cue, imagine your dinner plate as a peace sign, the two side portions are each 35 percent and the bottom is 30 percent. Put lean protein on one side and vegetables on the other. The starchy sides or dessert gets the smaller bottom section. This way you fill up on the leaner foods that will keep you feeling fullest the longest (remember–fiber and protein!).
If you’re drinking heavily, keep it light. Special holiday drinks are not so waistline-friendly to begin with (a glass of eggnog for example is the caloric equivalent to a size medium McDonalds Fries!), so when one drink turns into two or three, calories, carbs, and sugar can add up fast! Even low-fat versions of holiday favorites can be a slippery slope (low fat eggnog is still 50 calories more than a small size order of Mickey D’s fries). Have a sip of drinks like eggnog to be festive, if you must, but if you’re planning to imbibe, switch to wine, champagne, or spirits like vodka or tequila on the rocks, all of which are around 100 calories per glass with no extra fat. Your best bet: alternate between a glass of wine or champagne and a glass of water to stay hydrated (and help prevent a hangover the next day).
The Three Bite Rule. Let’s face it, everyone needs a little something sweet at holiday time, so you can indulge yourself, but have 3 bites and 3 bites only, of your favorite dessert. Studies show that people always rate the first and last bites as the best. Three bites give you a first, middle, and last, which is all you need to appreciate a dessert completely. No cheating: this does NOT work if you have three bites of every dessert, so choose wisely.