The holiday season is under way: a time when cocktail parties, family dinners, even a day at the office can tempt the most disciplined of eaters - and certain dietitians - to overindulge. Add in holiday stress and schedules that leave little time for exercise and your waistline could be in trouble come Jan. 1.
I know, you're thinking the holidays come once a year and you don't want to hear how many calories are in a traditional spiked eggnog (400 - sorry, couldn't resist) or that you should skip the candied yams for a baked sweet potato. Boring, right?
Believe me, the last thing I want to be is a buzz kill. But not everyone wants to roll into the New Year jingling a few extra pounds.
If you're one of those folks, the following tips won't make you lean, but they will help your waistline survive a season of sinful treats - without, I promise, resorting to carrot sticks.
Tame your appetite
It may seem like a smart strategy - skimp on meals during the day to bank your calories for a big meal. We all know how this works out. You arrive hungry, check your willpower at the door and eat far more than you had wanted to.
You'll stand a better chance of indulging moderately if you eat a healthy breakfast and lunch as you normally would.
Before the party, eat a protein-rich snack to rein in your appetite, such as a handful of nuts, yogurt and fruit, a skim-milk latte, an energy bar or half a turkey sandwich.
If you really want to keep tabs on your food intake, make a party plan (e.g. a plan for eating, not a guest list). Decide in advance how many hors d'oeuvres you'll eat, how many drinks you'll have and how many cookies you'll enjoy. Doing so will lower the odds you'll overeat. Set your limit and stick to it.
If you're constantly surrounded by holiday foods - at the office, at parties and at home - allow yourself only one treat a day, be it a cookie, piece of candy or chocolate truffle. If you're not tempted one day, skip it - just don't double up the next day.
Pass on everyday treats
Why waste your extra calories on standard fare you can have any time - nuts, chips and dip, cheese and crackers and so on. Instead, enjoy holiday foods that you love (yes, spiked eggnog comes to mind) in moderate portions and pass on the ones you don't.
Make smart choices
If you really want to have those high-fat hors d'oeuvres, go ahead. But stop at one. Keep in mind that four little salmon-filled puffs can set you back 400 calories and half a day's worth of fat.
Lower calorie choices include shrimp and cocktail sauce (57 calories for five), chicken satay with peanut sauce (117 calories for a 1.5-ounce satay), sushi (50 to 70 calories apiece) and table crackers with antipasto (97 calories for four). See, you don't have to resort to boring raw veggies and hummus.
Imbibe with caution
It's a party - enjoy your eggnog punch, martini or glass of Champagne. But limit yourself to one drink an hour, the time it takes your body to metabolize one alcoholic drink. Drinking more often will result in a higher blood alcohol concentration, not to mention an abandoned resolve to eat sensibly.
At a cocktail party, alternate alcoholic drinks with plain or sparkling water. To help fill you up, sip on a glass of water before your meal and between forkfuls.
Manage your environment
If you can't control the menu, control your surroundings. It's much easier to stick to your party plan if you don't stand next to the food table where trays of tempting treats call out your name. At the office, make a point of not hanging around a lunchroom that's laden with holiday sweets.
Just say no - politely
Well-meaning food pushers can throw you off your plan. If you don't want more food - or another drink - graciously tell your host, "No thank you, I've had enough; it was delicious." No explanation needed. I'm sure your mother, grandmother, sister and aunt already know you love their cooking. Your body will thank you for being assertive.
Limit taste tests
Sure, I want the meal I serve to impress my guests. But I don't need to taste it every few minutes, at the expense of who knows how many calories, to tell me I've nailed it. Sample one bite of each item before and after seasoning and skip the in-betweens.
If history tells you too much shortbread passes your lips when baking, chew strong-tasting peppermint gum (sugarless) to prevent mindless nibbling.
Deal with leftovers
Package leftover party foods such as nuts, chips and pretzels into snack-size bags and limit yourself to one a day. If you don't want leftover sweets to tempt your willpower, bake only what you'll need. Or freeze the leftovers to serve another time. I'm quite sure your co-workers don't need - or want - extra cookies piling up at the office.
Burn a few calories
Yes, I know. Between work, social events and holiday shopping there's no time for the gym. You may not be able to fit in your usual workout, but even a 15-minute power walk or run will burn calories, dampen your appetite and boost your willpower to not overeat.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.