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Healthy holiday eating

A good game plan yields winning results

Janet H. Matope | 11/14/2013, midnight

It’s finally November and we all know what that means—the holidays, first Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and New Year’s.

Fun with the family, office parties, or stores offering candy and other seasonal favorites; who can resist? Emotions are elevated, hopes are high, and the temptation of tasty treats adds yet another dimension to the season—concern over holiday weight gain. While eating lots of good food is both expected and encouraged during these special times, excessive indulgence can create problems later.

But the holidays don’t have to be synonymous with weight gain, especially if you approach them with a sound game plan. Here is a holiday eating strategy that you can follow before you find yourself making yet again another New Year’s weight loss resolution.

Pre-game tips

Don’t skip meals–especially breakfast, in anticipation of eating larger holiday meals later on. Research shows people who eat a healthy breakfast tend to consume fewer calories during the day.

Have a pre-meal–don’t go to a holiday gathering on an empty stomach. Snack on fruits or vegetables before heading out the door. This will give you a slight feeling of being full, which will help prevent overeating later.

Plan ahead–have a plan for self-control, especially when it comes to your most tempting treats. Think ahead about the sights, sounds, aromas, and feelings that trigger your personal patterns of overeating, and then make plans to combat these beforehand so they don’t become overwhelming.

Once in the game

Drink lots of water–sipping on a glass of cold water or ice throughout the event helps keep you feeling full and staves off the dehydration that comes from eating too many high-sugar, high-salt goodies. In fact, dehydration can actually mimic hunger, tempting you to eat more when you should really be drinking more water.

Practice portion control–it’s nice to dig into your favorite holiday treats. However, the extra effort required later to work off the calories, or, worse, the gaining of unwanted body fat from eating too much, should be reminders for portion control. So, eat what you want, just keep your portions reasonable, chew food slowly, and keep return trips to a minimum.

Size matters! The bigger the plate you are eating from, the more food you are likely to eat. Use smaller plates at the buffet line as they can help with portion control. There is something about seeing an empty plate that helps us feel satisfied whether the container is large or small. That’s why using smaller plates is so effective.

Eat food because you’re hungry, not because it’s there. Make a deliberate decision to control so-called recreational eating. Eat with your appetite, not with your eyes. Examine what’s available, and then decide what you really want.

Eat slowly–the stomach needs about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it’s feeling full. But when food is gulped down, by the time the stomach sends its fullness signal to the brain, you’ve probably already eaten too much food and too many calories. Fill up your plate, eat slowly, and then put the brakes on for a while so that your stomach can send its fullness signal to your brain.