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Holiday Eating Without the Guilt -- or the Pounds

Two experts offer waistline-friendly ways to enjoy festive feasting

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 25 (HealthDay News) -- If you love the five-week holiday smorgasbord from Thanksgiving to New Year's, but are already stressing about the added pounds you'll have to sweat off come Jan. 1, help is at hand.

It's possible, say nutrition experts, to enjoy holiday eating and make it to 2010 weighing the same as you do today.

It's all about devising a strategy and thinking about holiday food just a little differently, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, and Julie Redfern, manager of the Nutrition Consult Services at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Both are registered dietitians who shared their best holiday eating tips.

First, have a plan. Ponder it before family dinners and parties, said Redfern. For instance, you may decide before going to a family sit-down dinner that you will fix your plate once and it will include lots of vegetables. About one-fourth of the plate will be protein-rich food and about one-fourth carbs. You will not go back for seconds.

Eat before you go. Starving guests are more apt to load up their plates, so Diekman suggests having a piece of fruit smeared with peanut butter or a small container of yogurt prior to heading out. You can then approach the buffet table more relaxed.

Think ''pick and choose," not ''sample." Picking and choosing is a great strategy, said Redfern, if it involves picking the one dessert or other goodie you love and can't live without. Instead of sampling all three pies at a holiday dinner, decide which one you'll wish you had had, and then go for it, she suggested.

Remember, alcohol is loaded with calories. Start off at a party with seltzer water or sparkling water, then switch to alcoholic beverages. Delaying the alcohol may also make you take in fewer calories from foods, Redfern said. "Once you have alcohol, it lessens your resolve," she said.

Enlist the waiter's help. If your holiday dinner is in a restaurant, focus on your first course of vegetables, salad or soup, and ask the waiter to hold your main course until you finish, Diekman suggested. You may be fuller than you think, and waiting to eat the main course may mean you'll eat less.

Take control as hostess. If you're the holiday host or hostess, you have a lot of work -- but also enjoy control. Take advantage of that, Diekman said. "Prepare or serve [ready-make] broth-based soups that are packed with vegetables as a first course," she said. "Switch from buffets to meals served by the course to pace eating," she said. It's probable you'll eat less overall that way.

If you love gravy, make it from fat-free broth. Include more casserole dishes -- you can increase the vegetables with hardly anyone noticing.

Move, even a little. Squeezing in a little exercise, no matter how hectic the schedule, will help, Diekman said. "Walk the mall before you can spend any money," she suggested. "After spending a predetermined amount, take another mall walk."

Take a 10-minute walk every day, she said. "Everyone has that time."

Defend your resolve. Even with the best strategies in play, some people fall apart when face-to-face with those ubiquitous food pushers -- those holiday hosts and hostesses who encourage you to eat, eat, eat.

You can resist them, Redfern said. "Start off with a compliment," she said. Something like: "I love your pie, but I am full."

This works much better, she said, than telling them you have to cut back. That's an invitation for them to come back with tough-to-resist lines such as "Oh, it's only one day," or "You can afford it."

If you still experience resistance, tell your hostess: "I'd love to take some home for later." Redfern added: "They don't need to know if you actually eat it."

But if you don't want that temptation -- the pumpkin pie calling from the kitchen at midnight -- learn to be firm and repetitive as a guest, Redfern said.

''It almost takes three times for them to get the message," she said. So, repeat, repeat, repeat, cheerfully but firmly.

More information

There's more on healthy holiday eating at the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Julie Redfern, R.D, manager, Nutrition Consult Services, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Connie Diekman, R.D., director, university nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis

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