No matter how determined you are to not overindulge this holiday season, chances are you'll eat more than you should. Let's face it, December is a calorie minefield. Food-laden holiday parties and family dinners - not to mention all those goodies that pile up at the office - can trigger even the most disciplined dieter to cast aside the healthy eating habits he's adhered to the rest of the year.
Add in the stress of the holidays, lack of sleep and a jam-packed schedule that leaves little time for exercise and it seems December is a recipe for overeating.
As a dietitian in private practice, I've learned from experience that many people do gain a few pounds between now and New Year's Day. But a couple of extra pounds on the scale the morning after a foodfest aren't a big deal. The extra carbohydrates and sodium (think hors d'oeuvres, cookies and chocolate) consumed at an oversized meal causes your body to retain fluid - weight you'll shed in a couple of days.
But if one day of uncontrolled eating spirals into a month's worth of rich meals and extra nibbles, you could be looking more like Santa Claus come January.
It's not just seasonal treats that spell trouble. Holiday cocktails can also bank considerable calories and lower your willpower to eat "just one."
Despite the season's challenges to eating healthfully - and moderately - that dreaded holiday weight gain is not inevitable. With a little planning and mindfulness, you still can enjoy your favourite treats without letting food-centred parties and days at the office wreck your diet.
DROP THE D WORD
Now is not the time to try to lose weight. Having unrealistic expectations can lead to overeating by creating the "what the hell" effect (as in "I've already blown it by eating dessert, what difference will a few more cookies make?").
Instead, focus on maintaining your weight during December, a worthy accomplishment for many people. Allow yourself a few slip-ups. Realize that overindulging once or twice is not the ruin of all your hard work. The secret to not gaining weight is getting right back on track at the next meal.
HAVE A PARTY PLAN
Make a plan for each event. Decide in advance how many courses you'll have, how many hors d'oeuvres will pass your lips, and so on. Putting limits on what and how much you are going to eat will lower the odds of overdoing it.
DON'T GO HUNGRY
Take the edge off your appetite before a party by eating a protein-rich snack such as a handful of nuts, a container of yogurt, some low-fat cheese or a small energy bar. Even a bowl of soup can help you eat fewer hors d'oeuvres or less of an entrée.
And do not - I repeat not - skip breakfast and lunch to save all your calories in anticipation of a holiday meal or party. This tactic will backfire, ensuring you arrive ravenous and ready to eat everything in sight.
PASS ON THE MUNDANE
Seeing a wide variety of foods can be overwhelming and prompt overeating. Enjoy the festive foods you love in reasonable portions, and pass on the ones you don't. Stay away from standard fare that you can have any time. Make the most of your extra calories.
Miniature hors d'oeuvres wrapped in pastry, breaded or stuffed with cheese are generally high in fat and calories. For instance, just four bite-size sausage rolls deliver roughly 200 calories and 11 grams of fat, one-third of it saturated fat.
Opt for lower-fat nibbles such as smoked salmon, shrimp and cocktail sauce, chicken satay, sushi, cold spring rolls (not fried), veggies and dip, and crackers with antipasto.
Once you've filled your plate with a small portion, move away from the food table to prevent grazing your way through the party.
BE FIRM WITH FOOD PUSHERS
Well-meaning co-workers or relatives who won't take no for answer can easily throw you off plan. If you don't want to eat, politely say no. Say it over and over if you have to. No lengthy explanation needed. Just a simple, "No thank you. It smells delicious, but I'm full."
At holiday meals, be the last to start and the last to finish. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register you've had enough to eat.
Engaging in conversation with friends and relatives during a meal also helps slow your eating pace.
Alcohol delivers calories without nutrition and lowers your inhibitions, including the one that tells you to back away from the buffet table after you've had one helping.
Limit yourself to one drink an hour - the time it takes your body to metabolize one standard alcoholic beverage. Alternate alcoholic drinks with sparkling water, cranberry and soda, or tomato juice.
KEEP A FOOD DIARY
Don't wait until January to start your food journal. The best time is now, when you need to be mindful of what and how much you're eating. Writing down what you eat - or better yet what you plan to eat for the day - promotes awareness and prevents mindless eating. A food diary keeps you focused on your good intentions.
FIT IN EXERCISE
I know you're busy. But even a 15-minute power walk or jog can burn calories, reduce your appetite and strengthen your willpower to stick to your eating plan.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.