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The Parties Are Not Over and I've packed it on!

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Since Thanksgiving, this is what I hear from my clients:

“I feel like a stuffed melon.” “I tried but after the wine, all of my plans fell by the way side.” “I just had a taste of this and that and then I said to heck with it.

10 Survival Tips for Holiday Parties

Parties are an enjoyable way to celebrate the season, but party-goers can find their resolve weakening in the face of bountiful and calorie-laden food spreads. The good news is, nutrition experts agree that all holiday foods can easily fit into a healthy diet—if eaten in moderation.

“All foods fit!” claims Kyle Shadix, MS, RD, professional chef and food service instructor at Columbia University/Teachers College in New York City. The key, says Shadix, is to keep things in perspective. “It’s all about portion control and not overindulging.”

Here are some effective tips for controlling calories at those notorious holiday feasts.

1. Create and Stick to a Plan
To help maintain healthy habits, identify potential problem areas and anticipate situations that may present challenges, advises Kate Geagan, MS, RD, president of IT Nutrition, a nutrition consulting company in Park City, Utah. She tells her clients to allow themselves some slack and not to aim for perfection (which is impossible any time of the year, but especially so when presented with tempting food and drink). “Choose to focus on two areas at most,” recommends Geagan, “such as [sticking to] a firm workout schedule [and] avoiding the cheese tray if that is a weakness.” By recognizing and anticipating your primary weaknesses, you are more likely to stick with a plan, she says.

2. Maintain a Regular Schedule
While the holidays can be hectic, it is important that clients continue to eat at normal mealtimes. “So many clients are tempted to try to ‘make up’ for bad eating [by skimping] at breakfast or lunch,” explains Geagan. “This sets them up for poor energy, hunger and bad food choices at the next party.” Once again, it helps to have a plan to maintain your resolve. For example, if you are going to an evening festivity, eat a balanced, lighter lunch, such as a mixed green salad with grilled chicken and chopped apples. It is also helpful to try to eat a high-fiber snack, like a handful of colorful veggies, mid afternoon to avoid going to the party starving.

3. Practice Mindfulness
Before you heap any party food onto your plate, scan the offerings on the table. Consciously take one “virtual” trip through the buffet to see what is being served. This will help you make better choices. And savor both the food you eat and the conversations you have with other guests; eating more slowly will help you be more aware of when you are satisfied and feeling full. Another strategy is to create a physical buffer zone that is a safe distance from the buffet, says Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LD, owner of LivingWell Communications in Chicago. This prevents you from being within arm’s distance of those tempting dishes and discourages mindless munching. “Factor movement into the equation, so that if you are going back for more, at least you have to burn calories to get back to the table,” Retelny advises.

4. Be Selective
It’s normal to want to sample everything, but you may want to consider “saving” your calories for those favorites that come around only once a year. In other words, skip the mundane chips and dip, and go for a small serving of pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving. “If desserts are your weakness,” Geagan suggests, “sample only one dessert per party.”

5. Beware of Beverages
Keeping the holiday “cheer” to a minimum can save a tremendous number of empty calories. “Limit your alcoholic beverages to 1–2 drinks per day,” recommends Retelny. The same goes for those sweetened, nonalcoholic beverages; instead of sodas or punch, choose sparkling water and sugar-free drinks. For a look at some of the most common calorie-laden beverages, see “The Hidden Cost of Liquid Calories” in the October 2006 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

6. Practice Portion Control
The bigger the plate, the more people tend to eat. Most holiday buffets offer endless supplies of a variety of tempting foods; this can lead clients to unknowingly consume far more than their daily allowance of calories and fat. Retelny advises her clients to control portion sizes by opting for a small salad plate rather than a larger dinner plate when filling up at parties. Teach your clients how to recognize proper portion sizes by visiting the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Serving Size Card at http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/servingcard7.pdf.

7. Fuel Up Frequently
Never leave the house hungry, warns Retelny. “Grab a quick 150- to 200-calorie snack, preferably a combination of high fiber and protein to stabilize blood sugar and assuage the appetite,” she says. Carry power snacks, such as nuts and dried fruit, with you while shopping or running errands. And always bring along a water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day.

8. Practice Self-Monitoring
Set a simple fitness and eating goal at the beginning of the holiday season, and monitor yourself. Stay on track by using a tool that works for you, such as a food log. Use the log to record what and how much you eat, and don’t forget to include anything you had at parties. Be vigilant! To remind yourself of the payoff, Geagan suggests, identify your own reason for staying on track (e.g., to maintain the lean muscle mass you worked so hard to get), then put it in writing and repeat it like a mantra each day.

9. Be a Social Butterfly
Remember the spirit of the holidays is to gather with those you love, not to consume food. In fact, simply heading into holiday parties with the mindset that you are seeking companionship—not cookies and cake—may help you eat less, notes Ruth Baldwin, MA, RD, owner of RB Consulting LLC in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

10. Don’t Diet
Starting a weight loss program at the start of the season is a recipe for disaster. Attempting to diet in the face of holiday feasts can actually backfire, causing you to binge when presented with such temptation. Instead, create a plan for success at the start of the season and stick to it.

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