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Living - November 30, 2007

Epicure: Managing the holiday calories

by Jacqui Love Marshall

From Thanksgiving to New Year's, 'tis the season of good cheer, gratitude, generosity ... and indulgence. We celebrate with friends and family and share freely with others. We give thanks, we give gifts, and we give toasts many times over. We wine and dine our way through holiday parties, staff luncheons, potluck dinners and "just a taste" of everyone's favorite holiday dish.

No matter how we've managed our eating and dieting all year long, once Thanksgiving rolls around, we're all mesmerized into a 40-day-plus zone of non-stop feasting. We treat ourselves to rich foods and drinks, convinced that we are in tune with the universe as we munch, devour, guzzle and graze from one year's ending to another's beginning. And it's no wonder - all the holiday images we see on television, in magazines and on billboards show pictures of beautiful (thin) people having the merriest of times with no regard for health or weight. And, certainly, Santa's not the best role model with his "broad face and a little round belly," per "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

But come Jan. 2, we are amazed when, according to one friend: "My favorite winter pants fit like a sausage casing!" In fact, the average person gains one to three pounds over the holidays - but some of us gain into the double digits. So, what's a "foodie" to do, when all around us people are losing their heads to visions of sugarplums and other delightful treats?

Epicure has compiled a list of helpful hints and suggestions. Don't adopt them all - after all, you want to enjoy yourself and create some real holiday cheer - so select one or two tips you know you can abide by and let them help you modulate your holiday intake.

10 Tips for Managing Holiday Calories:

Pay attention to your consumption. Sometimes our eyes tell us what to eat before we think. Avoid eating with wild abandon. No meal will be your "last supper" and pecan pie will still exist after Dec. 25.

Make a list and check it twice. List the holiday events you've been invited to, noting what the fare is likely to be - cocktails, snacks, full dinner, desserts, etc. Decide ahead of time which events you'll attend - for example, Christmas Dinner at your daughter's home and your new boss' open house - making those your primary events. Weigh everything else as secondary indulgences. Eat and drink (or not!) accordingly.

Have a strategy. Consider one of these:

-Limit yourself to X number of sweets and drinks per holiday week. Stick to your guns once you have hit your self-imposed limits.

-Select one food category to abandon during an activity so you can be guilt-free about another - pass on alcoholic beverages in lieu of desserts, eliminate breads in lieu of second helpings, etc.

-At a potluck, avoid getting everything. Check out all the dishes first, make a few mental notes, circle back to the dishes you are most eager to taste.

-If it's hard for you to "just say no," limit your portions. Use a salad plate instead of a dinner one and cut your normal serving size in half for every dish. Alternate your favorite cocktail with a glass of calorie-free tonic or water.

-Select the smallest glasses for your drinks. Use a napkin to minimize your grazing selections. Carry a purse and a beverage to keep your hands from grabbing at every option.

Don't go famished, don't leave stuffed. It's dangerous to go to a holiday dinner with a voracious appetite. Take the edge off your hunger by eating a small container of low-fat yogurt, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts before you go.

Indulge selectively. Save your everyday calories for meaningful ones.

When traveling long distances or shopping in the malls, you'll work up an appetite. Take healthy snacks and bottled water to satisfy your hunger; otherwise, all fast foods businesses within a 10-foot perimeter will call out your name.

If you'll be having a hearty meal that evening, sip on a cup of hot tea or broth in the afternoon instead of snacking on office treats. Mint or green tea (and chicken broth) are the best options.

-Whether barhopping or working at the office, sit farthest away from the snacks at hand. It's been proven that if a candy bowl is more than six feet away from you, you'll eat half as many pieces as when it's right in front of you.

-Pass on ordinary dishes to splurge on extraordinary ones. You can get peppermint candy any time but a well-made trifle should be tasted.

-Relax and renew. Stress lures us to eat and drink more so high stress levels mean more weight gain. In the midst of the holiday frenzy, find time to exercise, meditate or just chill.

-It's your strategy (not everyone's) to know. Don't advertise that you're watching your intake and don't whine about passing on holiday treats. Overeaters love company and others, including your Aunt Sarah who says "Eat, eat!" to everyone, will shamelessly tempt you into eating more.

Give yourself permission to crash. At least once during the holidays you will fall off the wagon and overindulge. Beating yourself up only cancels out the pleasure of the indulgence. Just go easy on the next round ... or try a different strategy.

Get lots of sleep. As we overindulge, we also tend to keep longer hours. However, we need extra sleep in the winter months and studies show that people who are sleep-deprived are apt to gain more because of hormonal offsets.

Toast to a Better Future. If life in general or the holidays specifically bring extra challenges this year - loss of a job, a messy divorce, an evil mother-in-law coming to visit - don't get lost in your misfortunes by over-eating or over-drinking. Hangovers or stomach issues will only add to your gloom. Think of the holidays as a time to get ready for the exciting opportunities coming your way in 2008.

Have a jolly good time but take care of yourself so you're ready to move into the 2008 with less guilt and fewer pounds to shed.

Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

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