The Holidays Don’t Have to be a Diet Disaster

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The holiday season is here once more and many dieters’ goals will be put to the test. While the average American gains five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, dieters should not find themselves backsliding if they keep their dining choices sensible.

Howard Eisenson, M.D., director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center, says one key to avoiding holiday weight gain is to develop a strategy in advance of special holiday gatherings in order to better handle temptation.

“Pre-planning is very important,” Eisenson says. “Having some strategies in mind for what you’re going to say when you’re offered another slice of this or another serving of that, sort of playing through that in your mind before the gathering can be very helpful.”

Some additional strategies:

— To avoid indulging in high-fat fast food when your days become hectic, pre-plan several quick, healthy meals and have them readily available for reheating.

— Don’t deprive yourself by trying to cut out high-fat holiday favorites like eggnog or candied sweet potatoes. Instead, choose smaller portions of those treats and fill the rest of your plate with healthy choices such as sliced fruit, carrot sticks, cranberry dishes, baked squash and some almonds or other type of nutmeat.

— Offer to bring a favorite low-calorie dish to a gathering so that you know there will be at least one “safe” item available.

— Mingle with friends away from the buffet table so that you can indulge more in conversation than in snacking.

Eisenson adds that alcohol is a major factor in holiday weight gain.

“Alcohol has a lot of calories and, nutritionally, these are empty calories,” he says. “When people are drinking, it tends to lessen their resolve to exercise restraint when eating which leads to greater indulgence of favorite high-calorie foods. It is wise to recognize that potential danger and choose to be very moderate in consuming alcohol.”

Another tip is to eat something before going to an event with alcohol. The effects of alcohol are felt much more quickly on an empty stomach and can lead to overdrinking (and overeating). Try to drink one glass of water before each glass of an alcoholic beverage.

“We tell our diet participants to focus on maintaining their weight during the holidays,” adds Eisenson. “Attempting to continue weight loss during this season is an unrealistic goal for many people.”

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