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(Ron Manfredi)
(Ron Manfredi)

Leslie Beck's Food for Thought

Survive the season without holiday pounds Add to ...

December isn't exactly known for producing hard bodies.

It's the month when cocktail parties, sumptuous dinners, family gatherings, even a day at the office, make weight gain seem inevitable.

While some people choose to hide the bathroom scale in December, others who are watching their weight or following a special diet dread the holiday food temptations.

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If you think it's impossible to survive the season without packing on the pounds, think again. Falling prey to common myths about "unavoidable" holiday weight gain can deter you from enjoying your favourite foods - and may actually foil your plan to eat sensibly during the holidays.

The following advice will help you stay focused on healthy eating amid countless opportunities to overeat:

Myth: Most people gain five pounds during the holiday season

No doubt you've heard this one. The reality is that holiday weight gain is slight. According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, the average adult gains only one pound during the winter holiday season. The bad news - this extra weight tends to accumulate year after year and can contribute to the so-called middle-age spread.

Holiday eating is a small snapshot in the big picture. It's what you do from January through November that really determines your weight. Even though holiday weight gain is less than is often reported, you still need to make careful choices - and exercise portion control - to minimize the damage.

Myth: Cutting calories at lunch will help me manage my weight

Skipping meals during the day in an effort to "bank" calories for later is a tactic that's bound to backfire. It ensures that you'll arrive at your party ravenous, ready to eat everything in sight.

Instead, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch as you normally would. Before you go to a party, eat a snack to take the edge off your appetite and prevent overeating. Try yogurt and fruit, a low-fat latte, a small energy bar, or a bowl of soup.

Myth: It all boils down to willpower

Yes, willpower is a factor when it comes to managing the hors d'oeuvres tray and the sweets at the office. But it takes more than determination to control your food intake.

Managing your environment makes it easier to stick to your good intentions. At parties, don't stand beside the food table where trays of high-fat treats can tempt you. If appropriate, bring your own healthy dish to a gathering. At the office, don't hang around a lunchroom that's laden with holiday cookies and chocolates.

Imbibing in a few cocktails can also weaken your resolve to eat moderately. Limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per hour.

Myth: I have to give up my favourite holiday foods to maintain my weight

Not so. Passing up your favourite treats will only make you feel deprived and more likely to binge later on.

Instead, sample the foods you really love. At parties, choose a few of your favourite hors d'oeuvres and then move away from the buffet table. Don't blow your calories on foods you aren't crazy about. At the holiday meal, take only a few tablespoons of higher-fat foods such as mashed potatoes, turkey stuffing and rich desserts.

Myth: A few little nibbles won't do any harm

A handful of nuts here, a piece of cheese there, and a few cookies later on can add up to an entire meal's worth of calories. It's often the mindless, invisible nibbles we consume over the day that do damage to our waistline.

Before you eat, put your holiday treats - hors d'oeuvres, cookies, even potato chips - on a small plate. That way, you will be more aware of what and how much you are eating. While baking, chew strong-tasting sugarless peppermint gum to prevent mindless eating. And forgo the post-dinner nibbles. You won't starve if you don't have that shortbread cookie or chocolate truffle.

Myth: I don't have time to work out; I will get back to the gym in the New Year

You might not have 45 minutes to hit the treadmill, but chances are you can sneak in a quick 20-minute workout. And that's enough to burn 200 calories and reduce your appetite. Plus, you will feel good about yourself for doing it and, as a result, you will be more likely to make smart food choices.

Myth: It's the turkey that makes me feel so tired

after eating

Studies have linked an amino acid in turkey, called tryptophan, to a feeling of drowsiness. But to achieve this effect, it has to be eaten alone and on an empty stomach.

It's unlikely that tryptophan in a turkey dinner makes you want to doze off afterward. Feeling sleepy is more likely due to the energy your body requires to digest a large meal. The sedating effect of wine that accompanies the meal can also make you want to take a nap.

Myth: The tasty leftovers are bound to thwart my healthy eating plan

Leftovers that linger from parties don't have to accumulate around your middle. If you're prone to munching your way through the holidays, package nuts, pretzels and potato chips into small snack-size bags and limit yourself to one a day.

Deal with leftover sweets by making dessert bags for guests to take home (don't take them to the office). Grate leftover cheese and freeze for later use in recipes. Turn holiday meal leftovers into custom-made TV dinners to reduce cooking stress during the work week.

December's endless string of food-laden festivities won't make you lean. But with careful planning, mindful eating and the right mindset they don't have to translate into a tighter waistband.

Go ahead and indulge. Just do so sensibly.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Visit her website at lesliebeck.com.

 

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