Ten tips to avoid holiday weight gain

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2008

Most Americans put on a few pounds during the holiday season. More time at the mall and fewer hours in the gym, and all those holiday parties. With a little planning you can reverse the usual trend and weigh less when the winter holiday season is over than you did at Thanksgiving. What a great way to start the New Year! The strategy that you develop this month can become the blueprint for a healthier 2009 — and you can still enjoy every Christmas party.

1. Set a limit on your biggest temptation-foods. Cookies? Decide that you'll have no more than two. Chocolate? Make just one piece your goal and make it dark. A chunk of chocolate the size of your thumb has about 150 calories and some heart-healthy antioxidants. Eggnog? Ask the host for the smallest glass and nurse it slowly. If he or she has a rum-free version, take it. Skip the rum and you'll also skip another 150 calories.

2. If you leave the house feeling hungry on the way to a party you'll eat more and drink more. You'll reach for those high-calorie appetizers every time the hostess comes by with a trayful. Eat an apple or a handful of almonds before you leave home to lose that hungry feeling.

3. Arrive late. That gorgeous buffet table won't look quite as appetizing after a few guests have filled their plates.

4. Speaking of plates, use the smallest one available. It will look like you have more food.

5. Don't hang around the buffet table. The closer you are to it the more likely that you'll half-consciously keep snacking during a pleasant conversation. The same applies to the bar.

6. A thoughtful host will put out a plate or two of veggies and low-fat dip. The usual kind of dip is high in calories and you probably won't know which is which, so use it sparingly.

7. Go for the high-protein stuff such as shrimp, smoked salmon and bean salad. They'll satisfy your appetite sooner.

8. Take on a "sample" mentality: eat whatever you'd like but take only a small amount on the first pass. You can always go back for more.

9. Have an alcohol strategy. Drink a tall glass of water at home so that you don't quench your thirst with something alcoholic. My limit is two of any drink. By the time I switch to water or club soda with a twist of lemon nobody ever seems to notice that I'm no longer drinking alcohol.

10. This is the month to give exercise a high priority even if you have to make the sessions shorter because of holiday shopping and visiting relatives. Avoid parking-lot stress by finding a spot farthest away from the mall entrance. The longer walk will burn off a few more calories.

If you make it through the New Year's Day bowl games weighing no more than you did before Thanksgiving it will give you a boost of confidence that will spill over into everything that you do. Your body will thank you.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.