Avoid holiday weight gain

Indulge in your favorite holiday treats without putting on a pound!
© Woman's Day // © Woman's Day

Stay slim this season

Turkey, stockings, that jolly guy in the red suit—these things are supposed to be stuffed during the holidays. You? Not so much. Yet from late October through December, you're faced with heaps of Halloween candy, Thanksgiving treats, and holiday cakes and cookies. It may seem impossible to make it to the New Year without gobbling up every last delectable goodie. Well, read on for an early holiday gift: a guide to enjoying your favorite treats through the season so you don't come out the other side of January 1 with extra padding.

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Pre-festivity feasting

A taste here, a sample there...if you're not careful, you could easily consume hundreds of calories before the first guest arrives. To keep a lid on pre-party picking:

Eat before you cook. Don't even think about setting foot in the kitchen to whip up your famous pecan pie on an empty stomach, warns Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of The Active Calorie Diet. It's like going food shopping when you're hungry. Have a balanced meal or snack—one that includes vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and whole grains—before cooking, so you won't be as tempted to nibble. A bowl of oatmeal or other whole-grain cereal with milk, fruit and nuts, or a salad tossed in olive oil and vinegar and topped with grilled chicken are a few good options.

Tally your tastes. "If you have to sample something, put it on a plate first," Bonci says. Eating right out of the pot or pan makes it easy to lose track of how much you're consuming. A great way to keep tabs: Use a new spoon for each sample, then count the spoons as you go. (Visual reminders are powerful—research found that people ate more at an all-you-can-eat restaurant when their plates were cleared from the table between helpings than when the remnants were left in front of them.)

Keep healthy snacks on hand. "Cherry tomatoes, seedless grapes, edamame—they're easy to prepare, low in calories and they'll keep your mouth busy while you cook," Bonci says.

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Bountiful food at holiday parties

Celebrations can feel like an obstacle course: the buffet table, the bar, the passed hors d'oeuvres, the dessert spread. With these simple steps, you can navigate all the calorie and fat traps with ease.

Save your appetite. "Try going to the party a little hungry, but not ravenous—just as you would feel when you sit down to any other meal," says Janis Jibrin, MS, RD, author of The Life You Want: Get Motivated, Lose Weight and Be Happy. "If it's an evening event, eat balanced meals throughout the day, but skip snacks and treats to leave some calories for later. If it's an afternoon party, eat your usual breakfast, and if you're hungry an hour or so beforehand, have a small snack (around 200 calories), like a medium sliced apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter."

Survey what's available. Take a look at all the appetizers before you start sampling, and if you know the host well enough, ask what she's serving for the main course. That way, you can choose a few foods you'd like to splurge on. If it's buffet-style, divide your plate and fill half with veggies. The other half should be a carb (rice, potatoes, bread) and a protein. If there's a fatty food you really like, such as sausage, make sure the carb is lean, Jibrin suggests.

Be aware of little bites. They may look harmless, but mini appetizers often contain about 100 calories and can easily add up without filling you up. "You eat them quickly, they're hard to keep track of and they're not all that satisfying," says Jibrin. If you're splurging on the main course, choose lighter appetizers, such as sliced vegetables with dip (a large handful with 1 Tbsp dip is about 100 calories).

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So you overdid it. now what?

The first rule: Don't be too hard on yourself! "Your body regulates itself, so your metabolism speeds up a little when you eat more," Jibrin says. You'd need to ingest about 5,000 calories in a single day to immediately gain a permanent pound (most day-after scale increases are temporary from bloating). "The real trouble starts when a single day turns into weeks of overdoing it," says Jibrin. So steer clear of high-sodium foods, drink plenty of water and get back on track by following this easy morning-after plan.

TAKE A 30-MINUTE WALK Do this first thing in the morning to help jumpstart your metabolism and put you in a healthy-eating mindset for the rest of the day.

FILL UP ON FIBER Include at least one high-fiber food at each meal to help satisfy you for fewer calories--aim for an extra 5 g of fiber that day. Good sources include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. (Beware of certain vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, beans, lentils and turnips, which may increase gas and bloating.)

MAKE SMALL CUTS Trim about 200 calories from your diet, but don't skip meals. Eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack if you need to keep hunger in check. And avoid any caloric indulgences like dessert and alcohol.

GO FOR YOGURT A few studies suggest that the "good" bacteria, or probiotics, in yogurt can help with digestion and may help ease bloating. Have plain lowfat yogurt to keep calories in check. To boost flavor, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or a small drizzle of honey.

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Lingering leftovers

To avoid eating like it's still a party once the guests are long gone, you can:

Hand out doggie bags. "If you have extra food or caloric dishes and desserts that are just too tempting, give it to your guests to take home," Jibrin says.

Move them out of sight—stat. Wrap and put leftovers away as soon as the partygoers leave so you aren't tempted to nibble as you clean up in the kitchen. Store particularly tempting goodies (like candy and packaged treats) in a tin on a high shelf in a cabinet so they're out of reach.

Ice it. Pick up some small plastic containers when you're food shopping so you can freeze leftovers in reasonable portions, suggests Bonci. This offers a one-two punch: It curbs temptation (you can't just open the fridge and indulge) and lengthens the life of your leftovers. Basically, any dish that doesn't contain raw vegetables will freeze well. Just make sure to pop the food in as soon as possible (don't refrigerate it for a day or two first) to prevent bacteria growth.

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5 good-for-you holiday foods

1. APPLE CIDER This beverage contains phytonutrients that can help preserve memory and prevent cognitive decline. And at 110 calories per 8-oz serving, it won't break your calorie bank.

2. NUTS Their healthy fats and fiber make them super-satisfying. A small handful of any type goes a long way.

3. CRANBERRY SAUCE Go for the kind made with fresh cranberries, which is usually lower in sugar. In addition to helping prevent urinary tract infections, cranberries contain compounds that may help fight cancer.

4. CHESTNUTS Although they're somewhat high in calories (½ cup has 175), one serving has just 1.5 g fat and packs 4 g of fiber.

5. SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE If it's not swimming in butter and sugar, this is a healthy side. (If it is the butter- and sugar-laden kind, limit yourself to about ½ cup, the size of half a baseball.) Sweet potatoes contain iron, vitamins A and C, and almost all B vitamins.

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Goodies galore

Friends, neighbors, coworkers, your second cousin once removed...everyone's bearing treats this time of year. Here's how to deal with the nonstop storm of tantalizing sweets:

Think before you eat. It's tempting to taste everything that comes your way, but pausing and asking yourself, "Do I really want to eat this? Is it a food I really like?" can help stop you from mindlessly munching and racking up the calories.

Set up a schedule. At home, pick one time of day (say, your 3 o'clock snack or a dessert) and what you're going to splurge on.

Assign each coworker a week to bring in one treat. This will help control the onslaught at the office. You can also organize a healthy snack list and have coworkers bring in a nutritious option each day (for example, a crudité or fruit platter).

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Enjoy a drink!

It's easy to down way more calories than you realize, but a few cocktails can fit into a healthy eating plan. Just budget them in by trimming 100 to 200 calories on the day you plan to have a drink. Have a favorite that is high in calories? Aim for a smaller serving (half a glass, for instance). "Drinking eggnog or a hot buttered rum from a tiny mug can help make a half-portion look and feel like more," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD.

Sip without guilt

Champagne (4 oz), 85 cal

Hot toddy (9 oz), 130 cal

Light beer (12-oz bottle), 90 to 120 cal

Tequila on the rocks with a splash of seltzer and squeeze of lemon/lime (1.5 oz), 120 cal

Vodka and soda with a splash of cranberry (5 oz), 130 cal

Wine (5 oz), about 120 cal

White wine spritzer (5 oz), 60 cal

Sip sparingly

Eggnog (6 oz), 400 cal

Holiday punch (5 oz), about 200 cal

Hot buttered rum (5 oz), 400 cal

Peppermint martini or other specialty cocktail (50 to 100 calories for every ounce of alcohol it contains—and that's before the juices, sugar and other add-ons)

Spiked cocoa (6 oz), about 300 cal

2 Tbsp cocktail sauce is about 40 calories. 4 large shrimp are only 26 calories.

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