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10 tips for guilt-free holiday eating

Enjoy yourself without going overboard.

Betsy Klein RD

Tribune Media Services

November 25, 2009

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Let's face it: Not indulging over the holidays is like not splurging on that after Thanksgiving two for one shoe sale. But as we all know (because we've all been there), at some point guilt sets in and we start rationalizing all the red flags. I only had three cocktails (but we neglect to mention that they were served in German beer mugs) or I only tasted the desert (but you cleaned your date's plate as well). Sound familiar?

Now is really not the time to start dieting or monitoring the scale like a private eye. But, you can mind your Ps and Qs (portions and quantities), and savor the foods you crave rather than resorting to elastic waste band pants with utter disgust. These 10 tips will help you keep the scale in check without deprivation during the holiday party hopping.

1. When at a party, walk the room before you commit to a location -- away from the buffet table. Fill a small plate with a few appetizers and one treat, and then migrate away from the food. If you're standing within arms reach from the cheese plate, you will no doubt eat more than a serving (which is the size of a pair of dice). Remember, the goal is for you to enjoy the holiday but not to eat mindlessly.

2. Don't skip meals. I know what you're thinking: "If I skip breakfast and lunch I can eat more at dinner." Any knowledgeable dieter knows that skipping meals slows down the metabolism and causes the body to go into survival mode. Meaning the body is not utilizing food as it should and it starts protecting its fat stores -- not what we want. On occasion, I'm OK with light meals during the day to "save up" some calories for the big meal -- just don't skip them.

3. Just before leaving the house, have a small snack to curb the appetite so you don't fill up on holiday appetizers and snacks, which are often laden with extra fat and calories. Low-fat yogurt, fruit and cottage cheese, and peanut butter with apples are good options. If you don't show up at the party starving, you have a better chance of savoring your food rather than devouring it.

4. In case you were unsure, drinkable calories are still calories. And if you're not careful, as you plow through those mini apricot brie pastries, you'll convince yourself that they are entire food group. Alcohol can't be avoided (nor do I think it should be). But do be careful with mixers, mystery punch and eggnog -- calorie killers. Lower calorie options include diet sodas and seltzers (with a splash of liquor), low fat eggnog and wine (4 oz is a serving size). Alternate between an alcoholic beverage and a glass of water. This not only keeps you hydrated but also forces you to drink less. One or two drinks less in an evening can save up to 500 calories, if not more.

5. If you're the host/hostess, set a good example and offer healthier choices (no that does not mean rice cakes and carrots). Shrimp cocktail, fresh carved organic roast turkey, wild smoked salmon and a variety of roasted vegetables for a side dish are a few fantastic options. If you're going to a party, bring a healthy item. This way you're sure there is something nutritious to enjoy.

6. Listen to your body and its satiety cues. If you're full, don't go back for round two. Ask yourself how full you are on a scale from 1 to 10. Stop between 7 and 8 to avoid over-eating. This is the best way to create awareness of how you're feeling. And eat slowly -- the food isn't going anywhere. The body takes time to digest and register that it's full.

7. Avoid the office hotspots. Offices are notorious for an endless amount of delivered sweets, and walking into the kitchen to take a look could be the beginning of the end. I recommend limiting yourself to one treat per day -- wait to enter the kitchen until the end of the day so you have something to look forward to. Take low-fat healthy snacks to work, especially during the holidays to keep you munching on the healthy goods.

8. The holidays are no time to take a hiatus from exercise. To compensate for those extra calories, it wouldn't be a bad idea to bump up your frequency and or duration. If you normally do 40 minutes on the elliptical machine, shoot for 50 minutes. Take an added 15-minute walk after dinner to help digest your meal, opt for the stairs at work or the mall -- every little bit helps. As a bonus, exercise will help reduce that holiday stress and give you an energy jolt.

9. Savor and tune in. I'll never recommend deprivation, especially during the holiday season, but you can stay in the moment. Savor the good stuff but do watch your portion sizes. Know that a half a cup of carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, and corn) is a serving size. A tablespoon of salad dressing is a serving size (be especially careful of the creamy ones). Share a desert with someone. Go light on sauces and gravies -- generally excess calories.

10. Tomorrow is another day. One meal doesn't mean you're off the wagon. Don't punish yourself or drown yourself in guilt. If you eat and drink more than you planned, get back on track (and the jogging track) the next day. Don't convince yourself that you'll start fresh on Monday if it's only Wednesday. Go back to smaller meals and watch your portions. Trust me that one meal of overeating is not dictating your weight, but if you continue on that path through the holidays, I think we know what your New Years resolution will be.

A client of mine once commented that a goal without a plan is just a daydream. Planning ahead is key. If you're attending a cocktail party after work, plan for a light dinner. Don't set yourself up for failure by restricting everything in sight. That can't be maintained, and then you'll most likely overindulge.