The temptation to munch on high-cal food is as hard to avoid as holiday traffic. To help your detour around fat traps, we’ve created a road map for healthy eating.
When your social schedule begins to expand because you’ve let yourself go, so does your skinny waistline. “Most people attend tons of festive events-nearly all of them center around fattening food”. Add stress and zero time to cook or hit the gym, and you have a recipe for weight gain. Well, not anymore. Here’s a plan for dodging diet pitfalls-everything from thousand-calorie lattes at the mall food court to button-popping family dinners.
When You’re at Office Parties….
The danger: An open bar and endless platters of French Fries and Pigs-in-a-Blanket
- Step 1: Keep Moving. If you’re planted next to the food table, you’ll shovel chips and dip into your mouth all night long. “So stay far, far away”. “You won’t eat mindlessly if you have to cross the room, to get to the food.”
- Step 2: Be Picky. Passed hors d’oeuvres, which hover at every turn, are small, but they add up-fast. To avoid eating 2,000 calories worth of canapés, limit yourself to three that you love. Been waiting all year for bacon-wrapped goodies? Go for it. But pass on the crab cakes and other fried fare.
- Step 3: Sip Smartly. With alcohol, the goal is to keep both your calories and your buzz under control. Some options:
- A single shot of vodka, gin, or rum mixed with club or diet soda and a squeeze of lime. It will set you back only about 100 calories.
- One word: Champagne. “Not only is it low on the calorie chart-around 80 to 120 per glass-but it’s also more likely to be sipped rather than guzzled”.
- Light beer or wine. Most have fewer than 150 calories per serving. If you’re the type to make several trips to the bar (no judgment!), Fruge suggests asking the bartender to fill your glass only halfway each time.
When You’re at the Food Court….
The danger: “Having to make decisions diminishes people’s willpower”. So all the choices you face at the mall (point-and-shoot camera or digital camcorder for your man? Espresso machine or French press for Mom?) will make you that much more vulnerable to temptation at the food court.
- Step 1: Pack Snacks. Malls are filled with kiosks hawking softball-size cinnamon buns and soft pretzels on steroids. Keeping portion-controlled goodies in your bag will make other snacks easier to resist. Stick 30 pistachios or 24 almonds in a ziplock bag with two pieces of dried mangoes or prunes, or tote a fiber-filled granola bar. The crab/protein combo in these foods will keep you full.
- Step 2: Sidestep Seasonal Sirens. An economic theory called the scarcity principle explains why we’re such suckers for holiday treats. “Decades of research show that items we perceive as being in limited supply seem more desirable to us than non-scare items”. Themed coffee drinks and sweets are often more caloric than regular ones, so it’s safer to stick to the basics.
- Step 3: Chew On It. Pop in a piece of gum to keep your mouth occupied and out of trouble. Gum can satisfy a sweet craving, and studies show that the chewing sensation sends appetite suppressant messages to your brain.
When You Bake Treats at Home…
The danger: “It’s easy to think that ‘tastes’ are calorie-free”. But just because two spoonfuls of cookie dough fail to register emotionally doesn’t mean they don’t count. (In fact, they count right up to 500 calories.)
- Step 1: Open A Window. Nothing smells as good as the scent of cinnamon and sugar wafting through your kitchen, but allowing it to linger for hours can trigger you to eat more. Light a green-apple-scented candle (which studies have shown can reduce appetite) or crack a window to air out the tempting aroma.
- Step 2: Clean As You Go. Have a pan of hot, soapy water on standby and plunge batter-covered beaters and spoons into it once you’re done with them. “This protects you from nibbling”. And cleanup is that much easier.
- Step 3: Save Your Dough. When you’re tempted by a cookie-dough-laden mixing spoon, remember this: the raw eggs in that dough may contain salmonella, a bacteria that can cause food poising and was the reason for the recall of more than 380 million eggs earlier this year.
When You Have to Join Family Dinners..
The danger: Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s the scourge of your scale. “The more options there are, the more we want to try”.
- Step 1: B.Y.O.D. Offer to bring a healthy dish. Your stressed-out hostess will welcome the contribution, and you’ll have a safe go-to.
- Step 2: Pick A Plate With Purpose. Starting your meal by loading a dinner plate with salad (dressing on the side). Then switch to a smaller salad plate for your main course (studies show we eat less from smaller dishes).
- Step 3: Practice Portion Control. ”Your total amount of crabs-potatoes, rice, pasta-should be the size of your fist”. “Shaq, for example, can eat a lot more mashed potatoes than you or I can or should.” The same goes for lean proteins, which should be the size and thickness of your palm (no fingers).
When You’re Coming in from the Chill….
The Danger: Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’ve burned so many extra calories keeping warm on that nippy morning walk to church that you need to refuel… with a big, fried breakfast. “Cold weather alone does not increase your caloric needs up any significant way”.
- Step 1: Stay Hydrated. Without sweat as a cue during activities in cooler weather, you can easily dehydrate. If your body misinterprets your thirst as hunger, that lechon from Cebu will own you. Carry a water bottle and sip generously.
- Step 2: Warm Up. Eating has a thermodynamic (heat-generating) effect. So we often reach for food not because we’re hungry, but because we’re cold. After an outdoor activity, bypass the kitchen and warm up by snuggling up in a blanket. Still hungry?
- Step 3: Drink Your Snack. Fill a mug with skim or low-fat milk and a tablespoon of ground chocolate or cocoa, and you’ll have a rich, satisfying treat for around 100 calories. Or better yet, have a cup of green tea-it contains catechins compounds that can boost calorie burn.