Enjoy those holiday goodies without putting on pounds

Monday, December 13, 2004

Does it seem as though the season of giving has become a two-month cycle of gaining?

Try blaming the sweets, that endless parade of holiday goodies that starts with leftover Halloween candy, slowly marches you through pumpkin and pecan pies, and winds up with the obligatory eggnog and fruitcake.

How successfully you navigate this terrain helps determine whether you will be one of the millions of Americans promising yet again that the new year will bring about a new, slimmer you.

If you are one of the lucky few who can be satisfied with just a bite of this or a nibble of that, great. The rest of us need concrete strategies for dealing with the deluge of delicacies.

Rule No. 1 for Jane Kirby, author of "Dieting for Dummies," is to give yourself permission to enjoy dessert.

"Looking at them and turning your back on them is not a very realistic expectation," she said. "You're only one bite away from failing. For a lot of people that means, 'I've already blown it, I might as well eat everything else in sight."'

First, the basics. It seems obvious, but leave room for dessert. But this doesn't mean starve yourself in anticipation of a brownie, says Lucy Beale, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Loss."

It's simple math. Eat more calories than you burn and you gain weight. If you want dessert, eat fewer calories at the meal.

When it is time for sweets, consider the options before grabbing just anything. Eat only your absolute favorite one or two items, and take only those special desserts you are unlikely to find other times of the year.

When you are eating them, sit down and focus on the food. Standing up and chatting makes it easier to lose track of what and how much you have consumed.

Speed also is key. Ounce for ounce, desserts tend to be laden with many more calories than other foods. That makes it easy to overeat, and to do so quickly.

Kirby suggests using low- or no-calorie beverages, such as water, diet soda and coffee, to slow yourself down. Taking a sip between bites lets you enjoy the food longer and helps you feel full.

But anything with alcohol or cream, such as specialty coffees or holiday drinks, are packed with fat and sugar. Save those calories for the pie, which will be more satisfying.

Christine Senft, executive editor at Atkins Nutritionals, says the key is to savor whatever you choose.

"It's important for people to not look at all the things they can't have, but to look at all of things they can have," she said. "And there are so many things you can have in their traditional state."

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