Keeping Holiday Eating Under Control
Thursday, November 01, 2012

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel

I’ve spent a good deal of time lately discussing weight management with my patients, and they all seem to have the same concern: the upcoming holidays. For many of us, the weeks from Thanksgiving to the New Year seem to pose the biggest dietary challenge.

Even if we manage to gain only a pound or two, many people are unable to lose that “holiday weight.” Over time, these few pounds a year can mean a big overall weight gain, ultimately placing us at increased risk for obesity-related diseases -- including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke.  Short of avoiding all gatherings and becoming known as the “Holiday Hermit,” what are we to do? Here are a few simple steps that can help you avoid packing on the pounds during this most festive time of year:

1. Don’t show up hungry to holiday parties. Just as going grocery shopping on an empty stomach can lead to a cart full of unintentional purchases, arriving at the company gathering with your " tank on E” can lead to overindulgence in calorie-dense foods. Instead, eat a nutritious meal at home prior to party-going. This will keep you from making a beeline for the buffet, and allow more time for mingling. If you’re unable to squeeze in a full meal prior to your gathering, drink some water or munch on fresh fruit or nuts to ease your hunger.

2. Limit your alcohol intake. Wine, beer and mixed drinks often play a central role in holiday gatherings,  but alcoholic drinks can also lead to weight gain. A 4 oz. glass of red wine contains around 100 calories; a 12 oz. beer can have 60 to 350 calories; and mixed drinks range from 200 to 800 calories! If you’re someone who avoids alcohol altogether, great! If you do choose to drink alcohol, however, consider using diet soda or water as a mixer and switch to water after one alcoholic beverage.

3. Practice portion control. Scope out all food offerings prior to eating, and narrow your selections to those that look particularly appetizing. Use dessert or hors d’oeuvre plates, and taste small portions of any food items of interest. Stick to high-fiber items, such as raw fruit and vegetables, whole grain pilafs and whole wheat crackers; these will fill you up and keep you full longer.

4. Stop eating when you feel 80 percent full. Listen to your stomach’s signals to avoid overeating and experiencing the ensuing discomfort and heartburn. Drink water prior to subsequent visits to the buffet; sometimes we confuse thirst signals as hunger.

5. Don’t forget to stay active! Remember to incorporate after-meal walks with the family to help burn calories and aid digestion. When the weather turns cold, hit the gym daily; focus on cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging, using the elliptical machine or rowing. While physical activity is not great for weight loss, it is very useful for weight maintenance and is also beneficial for the heart, lungs, muscles, bones and joints. Plus it makes you feel good!

Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856-384-0210.