Features December 2018 Issue

Holiday Heart Health Secrets

Here's how to navigate a tempting holiday buffet without overeating and compromising your health.


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The temptations of a holiday buffet table can overcome the best intentions. To avoid eating more calories than you planned, or consuming too many sugary, salty or fatty foods, make a game plan before you leave for the party.

You're standing in a friend's dining room with a magnificent spread before you. On a table sparkling with ornaments and candles, you see an endless array of food. In an instant, you are seduced by the sights and smells of the holiday season. You reach out and pick up a plate-and your resolve to eat sensibly flies out the window.

The sheer abundance of sugar, salt, fat and calories in many holiday foods makes buffet tables a minefield for people limiting their caloric intake. Add alcohol and good conversation, and the likelihood of overeating skyrockets. "The distraction of dining with others can cause mindless eating. As a result, the average person eats about 40 percent more calories at a holiday buffet than when they dine alone," says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD.

Don't let lack of willpower sabotage your regimen. Kirkpatrick has some novel tips for approaching holiday spreads without losing control.

"Arm yourself with a plan that will allow you to enjoy yourself and leave the party with no regrets," she says.

Before You Leave Home

Dress wisely. "Wear a skirt, a dress or a pair of pants that's on the tighter side or that has a belt," Kirkpatrick says. "You'll know when your eating has gotten out ofcontrol."

Have a snack before heading out. "If you arrive at a party starving, you'll have no willpower. Have a handful of nuts, some string cheese or a few whole-grain crackers before you leave home," she says.

Prepare for Success

Approach the table with a salad plate, rather than a dinner plate. Itwill look full with less food on it.

Put only one layer of food on your plate. Don't make a food tower.

Remember the rule of one: one plate, one trip to the table.

Be the last in line. A buffet table looks great when you're the first one to reach it. Once the hungry hoards have descended, the food will not look as appealing.

Choose Carefully

Make an effort to find fruits and vegetables. "Choose brightly colored foods. They are likely to be healthier," says Kirkpatrick.

Stick with whole foods. Avoid highly processed foods.

Say no to oil. Pass up foods that leave an oil mark on a napkin.

Steer clear of dips and sauces, which tend to be high in calories that add up quickly. "It's easy to mindlessly dip a carrot into 100 worthless calories of ranch dressing when you're deep in conversation," says Kirkpatrick.

Keep a mental checklist of what you're eating. "Count the pieces on your plate and make it a goal to stop at a certain number," shesuggests.

Look carefully at every bite before you put it in your mouth to slow down your eating.

Give yourself permission to have one small piece of dessert, so long as you are not fueling a sugar addiction. "Make sure it's something you really want and that it's small," she advises.

After Eating

Chew a piece of gum when you've had enough food to feel satisfied. It will stop you from "picking" at the table.

Offer to help the host by clearing dishes or serving drinks. It will allow you to talk with other guests, but will prevent you from continuing to nibble. "Focus on friends and conversation, rather than food. After all, that's what holiday parties are all about," says Kirkpatrick.

Write down what you ate and drank as soon as you get home. It may make you think twice when the next party rolls around.

Make Your Holidays Happy

Concentrate on maintaining the weight loss you've achieved, rather than losing additional pounds. "Trying to lose weight during the holidays can be depressing and discouraging and can actually lead to overeating," says Kirkpatrick. "It's not impossible to lose weight at this time, but it certainly will be a challenge. You are better off aiming to not gain weight."

Kirkpatrick's final advice: Stay in your groove. "You may be tempted to take a break from your regular routine over the holidays, but continuing to exercise, getting sufficient sleep and managing your stress will help you stay mentally and physically healthy," she says.

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