Perryman Nutrition Column: Fighting Holiday Pounds

We can always count on the holidays to challenge us with too many choices at the table. Too many extras and too little activity can equal extra pounds. There is a Russian proverb which says, "The belly is ungrateful–it always forgets we already gave it something."

To prevent too many extra pounds piling on as festivities continue into the New Year, consider trying these simple strategies to help handle all those holiday temptations for the tummy.

Eat an apple. An apple a day does more than keep the doctor away. In a recent study people who ate an apple about 15 minutes before lunch consumed nearly 190 fewer calories. The study showed nearly identical results with a similar caloric amount of applesauce or apple juice. Interestingly, Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, NY, says, "This is great evidence that it’s not the calories, but it’s the effort of eating that tricks us into thinking we’re full."  

Eat soup first. Eating soup prior to your meal reduces hunger and increases the feeling of fullness. Study participants consumed about 100 fewer calories when they ate soup rather than drank a similar quantity of beverages, including water. The caveat is that the soup must have a water base, rather than cream or cheese, which not surprisingly would add substantial calories. Remember that soup toppers like croutons and sour cream add calories. Opt for Manhattan tomato-based clam chowder and chicken vegetable soup over French onion with added bread and cheese and creamy-anything soup.

Pace yourself. Eat lighter earlier in the day for an event that’s sure to include extra calories. However, avoid skipping breakfast or lunch. Typically the thinking goes something like this-"I’d better starve myself as much possible so I can really enjoy all the goodies later." In reality skipping a meal causes your body to starve for calories but your satiety barometer can’t work effectively and you often end up overeating to compensate. A better strategy is to pace yourself throughout the day to have a little less and then you can enjoy those "extras" later.

Be picky. Avoid the foods that are available to you any time-nuts, crackers, cheese and other processed foods. Spend your extra calories on specialty and home-made delicacies that you’re likely to only have at this time of year.

Little bites. Who wants to feel deprived during the holidays? Not me! Go for little bites of many different things so you can taste it all. This boils down to portion control. Using a salad plate instead of a full-sized also can jump start this strategy for you in the buffet line.

Burn calories. Exercise is always a useful tool when you’re looking to burn extra calories. If you already have an exercise routine, keep it up amidst the hectic hubbub of the holidays. If you can’t fit in your entire exercise routine, just get your body moving. Walking is a great stress reducer and doesn’t require special equipment or memberships-only comfortable shoes. Get a pedometer and use your holiday shopping time to work toward the recommended goal of 10,000 steps a day. Consider treating yourself when you’re gift buying for others and pick up a workout DVD or a fit ball.  

Push away. There is also the other form of exercise that’s easy but we often forget to do. Push yourself away from the table or stand across the room from food on the buffet table and sprinkled around cocktail parties. Make it easier on yourself not to be tempted.

At this time of year we are so busy doing things for others that we forget to make ourselves a priority. If you put yourself first, I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel better come January because you won’t be trying to figure out how to get those extra pounds off. What a great way to start off the new year-ahead of the game.


by Shirley Perryman, M.S., R.D.

Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Colorado State University

Extension Specialist