The year-end holidays are upon us, that stretch of starch-fests, sugary treats and swamped gravy boats that begins with the cheery promise of Thanksgiving and ends with the loosened belts and woozy noggins of New Year’s Day.
For many of us, Jan. 2 unfolds thusly: A gingerly step upon the bathroom scales, followed by a low moan upon learning that the scales are somehow 5-7 pounds off. And not in the desired direction.
Holiday weight gain, or at least the risk of it, is something that bedevils most Americans who are no longer blessed with the blast-furnace metabolism of youth.
“It’s a big problem,” says Marion Morrison, a registered dietitian at Eat to Live Well, a clinic in Thornton. “Generally, we tend to eat more during this period because more food is available. It’s not just that it’s high-calorie food.”
Sensible intake is one of the keys, she says.
“It’s important to be conscious of how much we’re eating,” Morrison says. “You want reasonable portions. Eat what’s appropriate. Maybe instead of a whole cup of stuffing you cut it to a half-cup.”
Morrison isn’t a huge fan of tinkering with traditional recipes to obtain lower-calorie results. “You lose flavor that way,” she says.
“The number one way to cut calories is to reduce portion sizes,” she says.
So to avoid packing on the pounds, shoot for a mix of moderation, self-discipline and some common sense.
Many of us exercise, but the simple fact is that if you take in more calories than you burn, then you will gain weight. So, if your usual exercise routine is 30 minutes of cardio work three times a week, maybe consider boosting it to 45 minutes of cardio for five times a week. Morning walks are a great way to burn calories and make for a fun group activity in the wake of family feasts.
“If you eat more, exercise more,” Morrison advises. “I try to encourage my family to take a walk after Thanksgiving dinner before we sit down to watch more football.”
Eat before going out
Translation: Never go to a party hungry. Drink a couple of glasses of water and nosh on some fruit or raw veggies before heading out, and chances are you won’t inflict as much damage when you hit the buffet table laden with cheese straws and lemon bars.
Don’t be such a dip
Creamy dips are traditionally calorie bombs, especially the tempting elixir known as onion dip. If you’re a host, then consider offering your guests dips that are based on plain yogurt. The numerous Greek varieties that have taken over grocery shelves are excellent for this.
Friends and family
One of the temptations of holiday parties, especially if the hosts know their way around the kitchen, is parking yourself at the buffet table. But remember that you’re there to socialize. Move away from the bon-bons and mingle with other guests at a safe distance. Focus on the conversation, not the food. Chatting is a great way to forget about those tempting treats.
Put a cap on it
When parties feature small hors d’oeuvres, it’s easy to lose count of how many of them you’ve downed. Hang onto the toothpick spears and set a limit on how many you’ll eat.
Back off the booze
There are any number of reasons to avoid overindulging in alcohol at a party. For starters, you don’t want to be the lampshade guy, especially in this age of social media. But another reason to limit your drinks is the high calorie count in cocktails, beer and wine.
“Drink slowly,” Morrison says. “And maybe you sip water instead of alcoholic beverages. Some people try to cut calories by drinking fruit juices, but they tend to be high in calories, too. But if you mix the juice with sparkling water, you reduce the calories.”
Limiting the alcohol goes beyond the calories: The more you imbibe, the lower your resistance to the temptation of the holiday goodies.
Lay off the sweets
Everyone knows that desserts are packed with calories, thanks to the sugar, butter and other fats. Stick to small portions and count the bites. Opt for a couple of strawberries dipped in chocolate rather than a big slice of cake or pecan pie.
Beat the buffet
Ah, the temptation of the buffet table, that collection of potluck dishes and casseroles which all practically beg you to indulge in wretched excess. Don’t.
Choose a small plate, and don’t stack the food. Avoid sauces and dips, and indulge in simpler foods such as shrimp and chicken kebabs, or fruit and veggies.