Sidestep Holiday Food Traps!
How to avoid eight weighty pitfalls of the season.
by Martha Schindler
Ah, the holidays! The parties, the presents…the packed-on pounds.
not just socializing that does your diet in during the festive months;
also the circadian rhythms of the season. "We're programmed to eat more
because our ancestors generally had less food in the winter," says
Frey, an exercise physiologist in Boston. "Now we've got plenty, but
still stuck in that 'feast or famine' mode." But don't despair (or run
and buy elastic-waist pants): We've identified the eight biggest
threats to your waistline and gathered expert advice on how to avoid
a.. Trap 1: Family Feasts
a.. Trap 2: Abundant Alcohol
a.. Trap 3: Bountiful Buffets
a.. Trap 4: Sugar Overload
a.. Trap 5: Crazy Consumption
a.. Trap 6: Finger Foods
a.. Trap 7: Lax Schedules
a.. Trap 8: Road Trips
Trap 1: Family Feasts
While it's always great to see Aunt Betty, it might not be so
eat her butter-laden food. "Watching calories around the holidays is
because food ties you to you family and friends," says Kathleen Zelman,
registered dietitian and nutritionist in Atlanta.
Denise Weighs In
While eating healthfully over the holidays is hard, it's not
impossible. Try to plan ahead, and look to fill yourself up with
foods prior to any extravagant event you attend.
Strategic sidestep: Contribute a healthful dish (roasted
whole-grain bread, a lean cut of meat) to your clan's holiday spread,
offer to cook at least one meal if you're visiting for more than a few
suggests Frey. When you can't control the menu, practice diplomacy.
throw a hissy fit over the lack of fruits and veggies, but stand firm
Grandma tries to force-feed you that extra helping of greasy mac and
Also, be a good guest and burn some serious calories by helping to
table, pitching in with household chores or running errands — anything
avoid sitting and nibbling.
Trap 2: Abundant Alcohol
People love to belly up to the bar around the holidays. But
can pack a double whammy, delivering up to 400 calories per drink and
eliminating inhibitions — which could lead to overeating as well as
Strategic sidestep: Choose nonalcoholic drinks such as seltzer
cranberry juice. Drink from the same type of glass used for mixed
complete with a lime and a swizzle stick, and you'll avoid the "Oh,
not drinking?" hassles. If you do hit the sauce, stick to light beer or
wine, nurse each drink long as you can and alternate with a glass of
Whatever you do, skip the eggnog — even without the booze, it's 300
Trap 3: Bountiful Buffets
It's the season of smorgasbords, which can leave guests feeling
bloated and depressed. "Almost everyone overeats at buffets," says
"There's just too much variety — and too much food — to practice
Strategic sidestep: Eat a healthful mini meal (a sandwich or a
cereal) before going to parties, and wear something that's snug around
waist, says Zelman. When you hit the buffet, load up on veggies, salad
greens and sliced meat, then add a few decadent things on top. The key
think "dinner" rather than compiling a mountain of snacks. Prepare a
for yourself, then sit down away from the buffet to eat. When you're
finished, go socialize — and forget seconds.
Trap 4: Sugar Overload
Experts know that humans are genetically wired to seek sweets and
chocolate contains mood-boosting chemicals. But understanding the
doesn't help us get through the season of candy and cookies without
on five pounds.
Strategic sidestep: Embrace the holidays in all their sticky
but indulge that sweet tooth with a single treat per meal (or party)
really savor it. "Eating chocolate or some other holiday treat really
make you feel good, so take your time and enjoy it," says Frey.
munching on candy or cookies robs you of this pleasure — and piles on
Trap 5: Crazy Consumption
'Tis the season of excess. And nowhere is this more evident than
the traditional holiday meal. According to the Calorie Control Council,
average American consumes more than 4,500 calories during a holiday
approximately 3,000 calories at the table plus another 1,500 in nibbles
before and after the main meal. That's more than twice the calories we
should be eating all day!
Strategic sidestep: Listen to your body, says Zelman. "Stop
when you're full, not when everyone else does," she says. "Remind
that your goal is to celebrate the occasion with people you love, not
as much as is humanly possible."
Trap 6: Finger Foods
Many a diet has fallen prey to the cocktail party, where
innocent-looking tidbits can pack a mean caloric punch. Needless
isn't reserved for black-tie functions: Hanging around the kitchen (or
"helping" with dinner), watching the game with a big bowl of nuts, or
decorating cookies and eating all the "rejects" can be equally
Strategic sidestep: At parties, skip anything that requires
napkin (typically the greasiest, most fattening choices). Wherever you
focus on connecting with other people, says Frey. If you're eating, it
should be because you're hungry, not because you feel awkward or bored.
Throw yourself into a conversation, and you'll be less tempted to nosh.
Trap 7: Lax Schedules
During the holiday months, you're staying out late,
more than usual and eating random foods at random times. Healthful
and exercise? Mere memories.
Strategic sidestep: Eat enough high-quality foods (think
carbs such as fruits and veggies) to keep your blood sugar steady, thus
preventing those mid-afternoon energy crashes that make you devour the
entire gingerbread house. And be sure to squeeze in little sessions of
exercise. "For the time and effort it takes, exercise pays you back in
spades — physically, psychologically and calorically," says Zelman.
Trap 8: Road Trips
For many of us, the holidays mean traveling, which is
with dietary perils ranging from roadside concessions to gargantuan
Strategic sidestep: Pack nutritious snacks, including
and fresh fruit and vegetables; don't leave yourself open to airport or
rest-stop fare. At roadside restaurants, avoid anything Alfredo
gratin (cheesy) or crispy (fried).