Step away from the buffet and no one gets hurt
By Sally Squires
Nutritional mischief. That's what can undermine healthy eating and exercise habits during the holidays unless you take steps now to counter it.
Don't worry: Dieting, guilt and deprivation are not part of this picture. The goal is simply to maintain your weight from now through New Year's and start 2003 a step ahead of the game.
To learn how to make it through the holidays unburdened by additional pounds but with enough joy left to celebrate, we asked a number of nutrition experts for their guidance. Here's what they offered to help you stay out of mischief at a time when food is plentiful and more calorie-filled than almost any other time of year:
Eat only from a plate. Sounds like a no-brainer, but that very act of placing food on a plate instead of standing at the kitchen counter, eating directly out of the fridge or mindlessly nibbling from a buffet table helps keep you more aware of what you're consuming. "It gives you that simple extra step to help you be accountable," says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh. "It's a way of calorically keeping things steady." And while you're at it, try using smaller plates a smart way, experts say, to help eat smaller portions and stay out of high caloric trouble.
Avoid hunger like the plague. Get ravenous and you're more likely to eat anything in sight. That's another reason to strive for regular, healthy, well-balanced meals. "We get so busy, stressed and starved that then the carrots don't look too appealing," says Bonci, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetics Association. And skipping meals means that you're more likely to reward yourself with nutritional mischief, like maybe a handful of chocolate candy as you dash out the door. "You feel like, 'I deserve this,' " says Bonci, who suggests instead building in time for a decent meal.
Make tradeoffs. It may be a contemporary adage that you "can have it all," but the truth is you really can't when it comes to food. Unless, that is, you're actually trying to gain weight or are willing to work off extra calories with a lot underscore a lot of physical activity. So be a gourmet, not a gourmand, as Thomas Wadden, director of the weight and eating disorders program at the University of Pennsylvania advises his patients. In other words, make tradeoffs to avoid sabotaging your healthy habits. Go ahead: have the pumpkin pie or the Christmas cookies or a chocolate truffle, but not full servings of all three.
Tip your hand. Who wants to carry around measuring cups and spoons during the holidays to calculate portion sizes? Engage in a little palm-reading instead. A handful of nuts is roughly equal to an ounce, or about one serving, according to registered dietitian Bonnie Jortberg, program director of Colorado Weigh, a weight-loss program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Your flat palm is about the same size as three ounces of cooked meat, fish or poultry or roughly a serving. Make a fist and your hand is about the size of a cup, good for a quick calculation of pasta, beans, rice or mashed potatoes. The tip of your thumb, from your knuckle to the top of your nail, is about a teaspoon, an easy way to measure salad dressing or, yes, chocolate syrup. "Using your hand is a nice way to kind of gauge how much you're eating at a party," Jortberg says.
Be a food critic. Okay, so the buffet looks mouth-watering, smells wonderful and you've just put several helpings of delectables on your plate. But if the actual taste of this holiday fare "doesn't meet your expectations, don't eat it," advises Marsha Hudnall, director of nutrition and eating behavior programs at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a spa in Vermont. "Get over the feeling that you don't want to waste food. You're not doing any good for you or anyone else if you really don't want to eat it."
Snack before parties. That's right. The idea is to arrive at a party feeling a little full so you don't succumb to the desire to gorge. Eat 100 to 200 calories about an hour ahead of party time to take the edge off hunger without spoiling the fun. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and author of "The Way to Eat" (Sourcebooks; 2002), often eats an apple or an orange. Other options: a glass of skim milk; a few whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter; an ounce of cheese; a cup of soup; a small bowl of cereal.
Location, location, location. You've heard it before, but experts say it's important enough to underscore again: Move away from the food. That means the buffet table, platters of food and bowls of snacks. Stationing yourself near food makes eating simply too easy and mindless. "The nature of foods at this time of year becomes much, much richer," notes Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "People have to be much more conscious about controlling what they eat during the holidays than any other time of the year because the foods that they are faced with have so many more calories per gram."