Load up on the eggnog and cookies at every turn, and you'll end the holidays with a five-pound gift that's hard to return. Learn to navigate the eating minefield that is the holiday season with these tips and tricks from top nutrition experts.
People tend to eat 50% more calories at a party than they would at home, said internist and board certified nutritionist Michael Hirt of the Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana. He advises his patients to use the S.T.O.P. method for help with portion control at events.
"S" stands for sober in/sober out. Alcohol can turn you into a poor decision maker when it comes to food. Keep booze to a minimum, either by turning to wine spritzers or drinking three glasses of water for each beer or cocktail, Hirt said.
"T" refers to the three-bite rule. Brain imaging studies show that the first bite of a food craving is the most intensely satisfying, the second about half as satisfying, and the third bite roughly comparable to the 40th. With that in mind, if you stick to three bites of that pie you have your eye on, you can satisfy your cravings for several things without gaining weight. Just make sure to fill your plate – preferably a salad plate – with a green salad and plenty of turkey as well.
"O" is for observe. Don't just grab a plate, or take the first appetizer offered. Check out the spread first, so you can prioritize the things you really want. Likewise, try not to be among the first in the buffet line. When plates and bowls are rounded over with food they are more appealing. Wait until the food is a bit more picked over, he says, and it will be less tempting.
"P" reminds you to prepare before an event. One of the biggest mistakes people make, Hirt says, is skipping or skimping on meals before an event to save calories, and winding up ravenous in a highly-caloric environment. Eat a turkey wrap or big salad with plenty of chicken or salmon for lunch the day of a party, preferably with a healthful snack such as vegetable soup in the afternoon. And remember to take some mints with you, so that after eating you're less likely to put more food in your mouth.
Rather than focusing on calorie-cutting during the holidays, Katie Cavuto, registered dietitian and author of the cookbook "Whole Cooking and Nutrition," advises her clients to put more emphasis on choosing fresh seasonal foods that feel nourishing and healthful, such cinnamon-sprinkled roasted apples, or rosemary and oregano seasoned root vegetables.
"This intention keeps the focus on creating joyful, healthful eating experiences" rather than deprivation, Cavuto said.
Squeeze more pleasure out of what you are eating by slowing down and really savoring your food, Cavuto adds. Many people, she says, shamefully rush through their indulgences without really being present to the taste and mouthfeel. Give yourself permission, and then eat more slowly and you'll almost certainly eat less and feel better about it.
When you know you have a big family gathering or potluck coming up with rich calorie-laden food, bring a healthful dish that you know you will enjoy.
"I love olive tapenade and oven-roasted tomatoes as a flavorful, nourishing addition to an appetizer spread," Cavuto says, "or a rich hummus," ," such as the smoked butternut squash version in her cookbook.
Make sure that vegetables also are the star of your plate.
"They are delicious and can crowd out some of the richer, more decadent foods without omitting them," Cavuto said. "I love a kale and Brussels sprout salad — it is unique and a crowd pleaser."
But perhaps even more important during the holidays, but most overlooked, are the simple practices of getting enough sleep and reducing stress through meditation or exercise.
"People aren't getting enough sleep, they're staying up late shopping on the Internet and they're tired," Hirt said. "Combine that with stress, alcohol and an empty belly and you're not going to make good [food] decisions."