Commentary: It may seem counterintuitive but snack before the party
If you are determined to keep that extra inch off your waist this holiday season, there are two things you are going to need for every party and gathering you attend: snacks and water.
That might not be the usual advice you receive this time of year, but the key to keeping the pounds off as the buffet table piles on is to stay hydrated with water — and to eat a little something before attending a holiday event.
If you are already fairly full, you are less likely to fill up on high-calorie temptations. Prior to dinner, eat a light snack. Examples of snacks include small or medium pieces of fruit, half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, 2 to 3 cups of air popped popcorn, and a handful of nuts.
When you are invited to a potluck, bring raw vegetables. You can munch on as many veggies as you need to avoid the fatty, starchy offerings of others. In fact, to truly limit your calorie intake, pile half your plate with green, leafy, non-starchy vegetables and reserve the other half for the fattier stuff.
But play favorites. For instance, if you wait all year for your aunt’s stuffing, scoop a little on your plate, but forgo the dinner roll and mashed potatoes. Use this same judgment when it comes to dessert: Even pie has its place in a healthy holiday diet, so long as it’s a small portion and it is a capper to an otherwise healthy meal.
Another way to avoid overeating is to stay away from food — literally. Position yourself as far away from the buffet table as possible to avoid grazing while talking with friends and family. If you physically have to get up to get over to the table for seconds (or thirds or fourths), you might be less likely to do it.
Also, while you’re strategizing how to say no to certain foods, consider saying no to certain invitations. Rushing around from party to party, sacrificing sleep and putting yourself in perilous dietary minefields can be stressful. And stress usually leads to poor eating choices and weight gain.
Just as you don’t have to accept every invitation to feel social, you don’t have to accept every glass of champagne to feel festive. A glass of red wine has almost as many calories as a can of regular Coke, so try to limit it to one to two alcoholic drinks a day. And be sure to drink plenty of water in between each alcoholic beverage.
In fact water is one of the key ingredients for keeping pounds off during the holidays and all year round. Dehydration tricks the body into thinking its hungry. By staying hydrated, we are less likely to grab an unnecessary snack.
I also advise patients to stay active. Institute a family walk between a holiday meal and dessert or start a tradition of flag football on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as you’re engaging in a physical activity more strenuous than chewing.
It’s never easy to avoid gaining weight during the holidays, but if you stay mindful of what and how much you eat, you can make it to the New Year healthier and fitter. Just remember to keep that water glass nearby.
MEGHAN GONZALEZ is a registered dietician and the Diabetes Educator and Dietician for the Hoag Diabetes Center.