Health Break | Published December 18, 2006 | Written by Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, LDN

Winning the Battle of the Holiday Bulge

Fill up on vegetables. Skip the pecan pie, or at the very least the ice cream topping. Forgo the gravy; go really, really easy on the stuffing. And definitely say no to alcohol, because the wine and liquor are not only calorie-laden, they're apt to set off a feasting frenzy.

Sound familiar? Such sensible advice is surely not in short supply these days but let's be realistic. Come Christmas Eve Santa won't be passing up the sugar plums dancing in his head so why should you?

Maybe there's another way. Instead of practicing conscious and painful self-deprivation, which we know is the crux of all dieters demise, let's consider these more realistic strategies to weight control.

Feast before the feast.

That's right, don't starve yourself. Being too hungry is like being too drunk—it's very hard to say no and even harder to make a healthy decision. Rather, eat normally throughout the day and enjoy a light snack prior to heading to your holiday party so you're not starving when you get there. Starving yourself all day only makes you feel as though you have earned the license to overindulge.

While this a favorite piece of advice from dietitians, myself included, there is one thing to keep in mind—you must know yourself! There is evidence to support that the hypothetical holiday eater is going to overindulge anyway, so the presence or absence of skipped meals is irrelevant. If this sounds like you, foregoing a pre-party meal (or two) may end up saving you a few calories by day's end.

Use the smallest plates available.

he size of plates and bowls heavily influences how much people eat. The larger the plate, the more you're likely to eat. Of course, the reverse is true. This same idea works for drinking. The optical illusion of a tall thin glass will fool you into thinking you're consuming more when you are actually consuming less.

Dress tightly.

For one, you can show off your curves, but really, nothing makes you want to eat less than feeling your belly hanging out over your belt. In a recent survey of dieters more than half reported clothing snugness was one useful way to gauge their intake.

Avoid recreational eating.

Consciously make one plate of the foods you really enjoy—skipping those you can get all year round such as chips and nuts. It is better to have something that is going to be special even if it is higher in calories. Then, when you're done, pop a mint or stick of gum in your mouth, get a tall glass of water (or diet soda) and sip on it throughout the night.

Plan on NOT dieting after the New Year.

The simple anticipation of food restriction sets you up for binge-type eating behavior over the holidays ("after all, if I'm never going to eat this again after Jan. 1, I might as well eat as much as possible now"). Besides, restrictive diets don't work in the long run. They slow down your metabolism, increase anxiety, depression, food preoccupation, binge eating, and make weight-regain more likely—not to mention the Super Bowl feast is yet to come!

Use the volume approach to make yourself feel full.

Chow down on the big healthy stuff (like veggies and fruit) and then see how much room you have for the rest.

Watch what you drink

Not only because eggnog can have more calories than you care to know about, but also because getting soused can make you lose inhibitions. Suddenly, pigs in a blanket are replacing carrot sticks without a second thought.

Give away gifts of cookies and candies

Don't consider it re-gifting, consider it recycling. Besides, better to get it out of your house and give it as a gift to the mailman or family friend.

Be physically active every day!

Try to keep up with your exercise regimen during the holiday season—or at least a modified version. Find ways to stay in motion by taking a walk after dinner or cleaning and putting away dishes instead of going directly to the couch.

Jennifer Fleming is a registered dietitian and clinical dietitian at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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