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BODY WATCH : Holiday Trimmings : It's a seasonal axiom: Overeat now, pay later. But you can reduce the potential for added pounds by following some common-sense precautions. (And relax, that doesn't mean depriving yourself.)

November 22, 1994|SUZANNE SCHLOSBERG

So what's another cookie?

This seems to be the universal motto of the holiday season--the mantra that guides us from Thanksgiving dinner, through office holiday parties, Hanukkah celebrations, Christmas dinner and ultimately to New Year's Eve.

'Tis the season of scarfing, rationalizing and blimping out like an inflatable Fred Flintstone doll.

"For some people, it's like a six-week eating orgy," says Francie Berg, editor of the North Dakota-based Healthy Weight Journal. According to Berg, it's not unusual to gain 10 pounds over the holidays. So here are 10 ways to ward off the extra weight.

1. Don't deny yourself.

If you're lusting after pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day, you'd better cut yourself a piece. Otherwise you'll end up wolfing down an entire pie the next day.

"People go through a holiday meal cutting and restricting their favorite foods, and they end up feeling really unsatisfied," says Bonnie Modugno, a Santa Monica registered dietitian. But this is not license to gorge on every dish in sight. "Become very discriminating with what you choose to eat," she says.

2. Eat regular meals, especially breakfast.

You'll be less likely to pig out if you avoid becoming a ravenous monster in the first place. Before each party, satisfy your hunger with three or four ounces of protein such as chicken or lean beef or one cup of beans.

"Sugar and fat metabolize differently than a well-balanced meal," Modugno says. "If you just eat sugar all day long, you're going to continue to crave it. So before you get yourself ill, short-circuit the process by having a sandwich."

3. Move.

Yes, as in exercise . And we don't mean laps around the buffet table. Biceps curls with your beer can don't count either. If you work out regularly, a little gluttony here and there won't matter. Besides, exercise is a perfect way to cut down on time spent with annoying relatives. If you say, "I'm sorry I can't stay and visit--I've got to go to the gym," they won't be insulted; they'll be in awe of your self-discipline.

But don't feel compelled to sweat for hours. Organize half-hour walks during your office lunch break. Or circle the mall a few times to scope out the stores before you shop.

4. Avoid temptation.

Don't keep a jar of Hershey's Kisses on your desk. Don't fill your house with bowls of peanuts. Don't hang candy canes on your Christmas tree--you might end up eating all your ornaments. But don't eliminate food from your home and office altogether.

"Fill your desk drawer with healthy snacks, like crunchy vegetables, nonfat yogurt and SnackWell's Fat-Free Whole Wheat Crackers," suggests Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian in Salem, Ore. "Go armed into battle."

If fat-free whole-wheat crackers don't bring the word yum to mind, at least keep your surroundings stocked with something healthier than fudge brownies.

5. Rejoice in the holiday spirit.

"The season shouldn't be 90% eating," Berg says. "We need to think about relationships, love and giving--the social pleasures of spending time with our friends and relatives." When you go to a party, focus on the fun and conversation, and eliminate the mindless munching. "You don't really need to be chewing on nuts every third sentence," Modugno says.

6. Stress less and get your sleep.

This advice doesn't seem too practical--sort of like telling Siberians to avoid cold weather in the winter. But experts say it's possible to reduce holiday anxiety.

"Re-evaluate what has to be done," Modugno says. Rather than probe the universe for the perfect gift for each of your 27 cousins, get your family to draw names so that each person buys and receives one gift.

Recognize that overeating during the holidays isn't related to just the overabundance of food. "The fatigue, stress and time crunch are much more the problem," Modugno says.

7. Cook low-fat foods.

Don't mess with your favorite dishes, but do experiment with low-fat and low-calorie versions of some holiday foods and desserts.

"You can make dressing without a cube of butter," Modugno says. In your quest to lighten up your meals, just make sure you read labels carefully; low-fat eggnog has a lot less fat than regular eggnog, but because of the increased sugar contest, it has nearly as many calories.

8. Take small portions and eat slowly.

There's no need to model your Thanksgiving plate after the Eiffel Tower--you can always go back for more. And when you do return to the table after assembling your masterpiece, take time to utter at least one complete sentence between bites.

"People scarf down that first plate so fast they don't taste anything, and of course they have to go back for seconds," Modugno says. "Slow down so you can actually taste the food."

9. Stop eating when you're full.

Pay attention to how stuffed you feel, and quit before your belt makes a permanent indentation in your stomach.

10. Don't strive for perfection.

If you overeat or skip exercise for a few days, forgive yourself and get back on track.

"We get embedded in irrational thinking: 'Hell, I've already blown it. This won't count,' " Modugno says. Of course, it does--a fact people tend to avoid until January. "Then everyone's out there starving themselves," she says. "They're so frantic at the consequences of their behavior the last two months."

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