Perryman Nutrition Column: Surviving Six Weeks of Scrumptious Temptations

Note to Editors: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, a registered dietitian in the Department of Foof Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University’s College of Applied Human Sciences. Perryman is an Extension specialist.

Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Chanukah or Christmas and New Year’s aren’t each just a single day.  Starting with the week of Thanksgiving until the New Year’s celebration a six-week season of culinary temptations is ahead.

Many of us make a promise to ourselves not to overdo it this year. Our intentions are good but somehow they always get de-railed and we find ourselves feeling frustrated in January after packing on extra pounds. Do you make any of these mistakes in your effort to get through the holidays?

1.     Skip breakfast and use the salad bar as a "safe" choice for lunch.

–     Research has shown that the typical breakfast skipper is likely to be overweight. Employing that strategy is a sure-fail solution as you’re more likely to eat even more at the party.  Eating breakfast helps to control the amount of calories you’ll consume throughout the rest of the day.  

–     Aim for a breakfast of about 300 calories. Instead of doughnuts and sugary cereal, better options to choose are whole grains, fruit and foods high in protein. Having a salad for lunch is a healthy choice but choose wisely. Avoid loading up on the high calorie options-bacon bits, creamy salad dressing, lots of cheese and croutons.

–     Take the edge off your hunger before you go to an evening party by eating a light snack-aiming for 200 calories or less. Choose a high-fiber cereal with milk, fresh fruit or a small handful of nuts.

2.     Snack mindlessly.

–     Keeping track of what you eat by writing it down makes you accountable. Unfortunately, human beings can be very selective at remembering. Often we only remember what we ate while we were sitting down at a meal.  If you keep a journal and record everything you eat, you’ll be amazed at how much you eat as unplanned snacks.  

–     If you have little ones at home, do you "clean up" their plates?  When you’re cooking, how much do you sample – especially when you’re making holiday goodies?  When you get home and you’re tired, do you stop off at the fridge or snack cupboard and eat out of the container while standing?  When you’re surfing the web, are you snacking?  

–     Plan for snacks, count them toward your total daily calories and keep healthier options on hand at home, at the office, and in your car. If large bags are too tempting, splurge and buy the pre-packaged smaller portions.

3.     Promise yourself you’ll exercise the extra calories away.

–     Finding the extra time to exercise as the solution for over-indulgence might not be very practical. You need to walk briskly (3.5 mph) for 22 minutes to burn off just 100 calories.

–     A typical holiday meal including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, a roll with butter, pie and wine can add up to more than 2,000 calories! If you add in appetizers and more alcohol you can easily exceed 3,000 calories! The average person would have to jog at a pace of 6 miles an hour for about two-and-a-half to three hours to burn off the calories consumed by that meal alone. If you aren’t up for running that long or far – about 18 miles –survey the menu and eat only those foods that tempt your taste buds to make your calories count.

–     Minimize over-indulgence by skipping the foods you can have any time like chips and dip. Also, consider using a smaller plate and forgo second helpings. If, however, the temptations get the best of you, remind yourself it was just one day of overeating and do better tomorrow.

4.     Rely on fast food for too many meals.

–     The list of things to do to prepare for the holidays-decorating, shopping, and baking-is long and there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Making meals simple saves time but what’s your definition of simple? Simple can mean grilled chicken or homemade soup in the crock pot and a salad loaded with fresh veggies or it can mean take out from a fast food restaurant.  The key is to plan ahead to avoid the "grab and go" phenomena. Not only are fast-food restaurant choices often overloaded with calories, along with hurrying comes speed eating which can mean consuming extra calories.

–     It takes 20 minutes for the brain to get the message the stomach is full. One study showed that women who ate a meal in 30 minutes consumed 10 percent fewer calories compared to those who gobbled it down in 10 minutes. All those calories saved add up, too. Savor each bite sitting down at the table and give yourself the gift of "down time" to de-stress.

We eat for all kinds of reasons other than hunger-childhood memories, taste, and eye appeal to name a few. Certainly you should enjoy the special foods you associate with this time of year, but it pays to strategize going into this six-week event to ensure you will greet January with good memories and no extra pounds.