You may dodge the fudge at the office party only to succumb to your mother's plea to have one more piece of homemade pumpkin cheesecake. Or, you may gracefully say no to the butter cookies offered at a neighbor's house only to be slipped a candy cane by a department store Santa. Then there's the guests coming over, the dinner parties at friend's houses, and the daily treats at the office.
It takes 3,500 extra calories to pack on a pound of body fat, so it's no surprise that weight gain is the norm during this time of year. But wait! Weight gain is not a decree, just as enjoying the holidays and staying healthy is not an either-or issue. You can prevent the extra poundage and still enjoy the festivities.
Here are 10 tips to help you through the holidays:
1. EAT REGULAR MEALSA plan to skip meals earlier in the day because you're planning to attend a party that night is a big mistake. "Saving" calories for later in the day always backfires because deprivation sets you up for losing control and overeating. Eat regular meals, starting with breakfast, and include a little protein at each meal to keep you feeling satisfied (if you just eat sugar all day long, you will continue to crave it!)
2. HAVE COFFEE FOR DESSERTIt won't work all the time, but on those festive occasions when you are full by dessert-time, opt for a cup of coffee, sweeten it with sugar substitute and consider this dessert. You'll be saving yourself 450 calories from the pecan pie or the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. That's the equivalent of preventing a 4 1 /2 pound weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Years!
3. TASTE, DON'T GORGE ON SPECIAL HOLIDAY FAREPile the plate with vegetables, fruits, turkey breast, and other low-cal items, then serve two to three-bite mouthfuls of the fattier fare, such as the mashed potatoes and gravy or the stuffing loaded with sausage. If your boss gives you a box of chocolates, pick out two of your favorites and then pass the box around the office until it's empty. Better yet, pass along rich food gifts still in their original wrappers to a local food bank. Remember: 'Tis far better to give than to receive!
4. BOOZE CONTROLHoliday alcoholic beverages pack about 150 to 300 calories per serving. (Eggnog can contain up to 400 calories per cup!) These are calories that are not compensated for by eating less later on, so they are added on top of your total day's calorie load. If you drink even one of these high-calorie beverages every day throughout the holidays, that means a potential gain of four pounds! In addition, alcohol reduces inhibitions, so you tend to eat even more than you would have otherwise. To cut back on the booze: Alternate a glass of wine with a glass of sparkling water, drink Virgin Mary's or Virgin Margaritas, sip on diet cranberry juice and club soda, or order a light beer with half the calories.
5. STOCK UP ON FAT-FREE, SUGAR-FREE INGREDIENTSReplace half & half, butter, whole eggs, and other fatty foods with fat-free taste-alikes, such as use fat-free half & half in your eggnog, Splenda for half the sugar in recipes, fat-free sour cream in your mashed potatoes and dips, and apple butter instead of butter when making holiday breads.
6. TAKE SMALL PORTIONSYour holiday plate doesn't need to resemble the Great Pyramid. Take small portions, eat slowly (utter at least one sentence between bites), and push back from the table after the first round. You always can go back for seconds if you're still hungry, but you'll be less likely to clean your plate and overeat until stuffed.
7. TRY THE TRADE-OFF TACTICDeny yourself favorite foods during the holidays and you'll feel deprived and more ripe for a binge. Instead, decide which trade offs you're willing to make. If you really want a friend's Swedish meatballs, have them. Then say, "because I've had that, I'm going to forgo dessert for the next two nights."
8. DEVELOP BAD MANNERSHave a relative or friend that won't take "no" for an answer? At holiday fetes, cover your plate with a napkin to signal you're finished. Never let the hostess see you empty-plated; she'll take it as signal to fill 'er up. At parties, keep a glass in one hand and a napkin in the other, so servers are less likely to tempt you with more appetizers.
9. EAT BEFORE YOU PARTYNever arrive ravenous at a social function. To prevent party food overload, nourish yourself with light meals throughout the day. Then, just before heading out for the evening, take the edge off your hunger with a small snack.
10. SCRAPE IT OFFYou can scrape lots of calories off treats and still enjoy the experience. Scrape the icing off a piece of carrot cake and you save 245 calories. Eat pie without the crust and save 120 calories. Pizza cleared of cheese saves 100 calories. If you made these small concessions every day, you'd prevent a five-pound weight gain over the holidays.Last, but not least:
Don't strive for perfectionSo you overate last night or you skipped your exercise this morning. Just get back on track, don't use this indiscretion as a reason to blow off the entire holiday season.
Work it offNow is the time to exercise. Move more throughout the day to burn off any extra calories. Go for a walk after meals; walk once around the mall before shopping; use stairs instead of the escalator; park a few blocks from your destination; walk to a co-worker's station rather than e-mail her; put away the remote control and the mobile phone and get up to change the station or answer the phone. Don't put off a workout because you don't have time for the whole nine yards. Daily spurts of exercise are useful, too. Remember: Exercise is the currency with which you "pay" for all the yummy holiday fare.
Elizabeth Somer, M.A.R.D. is a registered dietitian and author of "Food & Mood."