Eat smart during the holidays

We all know how to hard it is to avoid gaining weight during the holidays with all the delicious dishes offered at parties, dinners, get-togethers. So here are some tips on how to make smarter food choices this season.

Eat before the party:
Don’t go to a party famished. Have some soup, a piece of fruit, a small piece of low-fat cheese, or a slice or two of lean ham or turkey before you go to the party. That will take the edge off your hunger and give you better control of your eating.

Make a bargain:
You’ve been good all week, so you tell yourself it’s OK to splurge at parties. This is a type of bartering. You can do this from meal to meal, day to day, or you can restrict your diet during the week, so you can indulge at weekend parties. This way you can be focused and disciplined during the week and give yourself a little more leeway on the weekend. Of course, this works only if your total weekly calories remain the same.

Scope out food options:
At buffet tables, scope out the options first. Make a mental note of what you’d like to eat, before you fill your plate. This way you can get a taste of everything you’d like to try and not feel deprived, but you won’t thoughtlessly pile all sorts of food on your plate.Taste hors d’oeuvres:When appetizers are being passed around, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re eating. One strategy is to take a bite of an appetizer you’d like to try, and then put it down. You’ll get a taste, but you won’t get all the calories. Another strategy is to eat small appetizers and then eat veggies (ones which aren’t drowned in dressing or sauces) and other low-calorie crunchers. The third strategy is to choose only lean protein and low-fat items. For example, you’ll limit yourself to shrimp with cocktail sauce, chicken satay, or meatballs.

Here are some calorie-laden foods you’ll want to avoid:

Naughty foods:

  • Pastry-wrapped appetizers
  • Buffalo wings
  • Creamy dips
  • Caramelized nuts

Nice foods:

  • Protein. Plain meatballs or chicken and shrimp on skewers are good choices.
  • Salsa
  • Nuts in shells. Believe it or not, studies show when you have to work for your food (cracking nutshells), you eat less. The same is true for candy. If you need to unwrap the candy, you’ll eat less.

Limit alcoholic drinks:Alcohol is a double whammy. Not only do drinks contain calories, plus they also make it more likely that you won’t stay disciplined. After a drink or two, those big handfuls of nuts don’t seem too indulgent. If youhave a glass of wine, remember five ounces is considered a serving. With mixed drinks, use diet soda, diet tonic water and low-calorie mixers. Skip the wine coolers and hard lemonades. They’re loaded with extra sugar and calories. A low-calories beer is another option. Try to limit yourself to one drink an hour. Have a diet soda or a sparkling water with lime between drinks.

Dr. Fernstrom’s Bottom Line: You can enjoy the holidays without deprivation, eating all the foods you like, if you think before you eat, be a taster (don’t clean the plate), barter with yourself (choose one food and pass on another), and be active (clean the house, take a walk, or dance while you cook.) And remember food is not love. Don’t think that you’d be rude if you refuse to eat a hostess’s food. Don’t let people force food on you.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., CNS,is the founder and director of the An associate professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Fernstrom is also a board-certified nutrition specialist from theAmerican College of Nutrition.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.