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Holiday Parties without the Pounds

During the holidays, food isn’t just food, it’s a delicious experience loaded with tradition and temptation. And if you’re not careful, in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the indulgent delights of stuffing, pumpkin pie and eggnog can become the harsh reality of extra pounds.

For our weight to survive the season, we need to party healthy, not hearty. The key is putting together a party strategy that keeps portions — and appetites — under control. Here’s how.

Don’t Arrive Famished. “For several days before a party, cut back on both fat and calories,” advises dietitian Riska Platt, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. That way, you’ll be able to eat a little more without worrying about it. Never arrive at a party starving or you’ll overeat. Instead, have a piece of fruit, a small salad or a cup of low-fat yogurt before leaving home.

Use Delay Tactics. Once you arrive at a party, have a diet soda or a glass of seltzer mixed with fruit juice. Hold off on the hors d’oeuvres and champagne.

“The longer you put off eating and drinking alcohol, the less time you’ll have to overindulge,” says Cathy Nonas, RD, author of Outwit Your Weight (Rodale Press). Research shows that consuming alcohol and high-fat appetizers may cause you to eat more during the main course.

To avoid feeling deprived and dodge the social pressure from others, put the seltzer in a wine glass or the diet soda in a high-ball glass. “No one will know you’re having a completely low-damage drink,” says Linda Spangle, author of 100 Days of Weight Loss (Nelson, Thomas, Inc., $14.99).

If others offer you food or pressure you to indulge, a good retort is to say: “Not just yet. I’m just going to wait a little while,” says Spangle. “It’s a magical line, one that most people won’t challenge.”

Fill Your Plate. You read it right. Once you give yourself the go-ahead to dig in, use a plate rather than grabbing one handful of goodies, then another and another. Fill three-quarters of your plate with chopped fresh vegetables and fruit, if available, reserving the remaining quarter for anything you want,

Don’t feel obligated to eat whatever you take. Ditto with dessert. And whatever you do, sit down to savor each and every bite. Spangle recommends mingling without food. Once you’ve said your hellos, then sit down and slowly dig in to your allotted portion. Think twice before you go back for more.

Every Second Counts. Speaking of seconds, keep in mind that another helping of mashed potatoes (110 calories), a slice of turkey breast (120) and a narrow sliver of pecan pie (215) doesn’t seem like much. But do the math. That “just a little more” can easily add up to more than 440 calories and about 14 grams of fat. So make your first plateful of holiday dinner your last.

A temptation tamer: Take a 20-minute intermission before reaching for seconds to give the urge for more an opportunity to pass. Afterward, if you’re still hungry, opt for another serving of steamed vegetables or a salad.

Change Your Tune. Research shows that eating while listening to fast, loud music may cause you to consume more food. It takes your brain about 10 minutes to register that you’re full. The faster the musical beat, the more quickly you’ll eat, so you may have already gone back for seconds before your brain tells you that your stomach’s had enough. So when dining at home over the holidays, put on slow, soothing tunes.

Exercise Every Day. Throughout the holidays, exercise daily even if you swear you’re too busy. Exercise quells your stress level, boosts metabolism and provides a feeling of well being that can fuel your resolve to eat healthy during the holidays. “When you exercise consistently, you’re less likely to say, ‘Oh, forget about it. I’m just going to pig-out tonight,’” Spangle says. u

Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer.

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