Make peace with holiday eats

Overeating during the holidays is practically a tradition.

“We rationalize that it’s a special time, with foods that aren’t available throughout the year,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition for Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Mass. But overindulging can lead to weight gain, fatigue and guilt. So how should you approach the holiday buffet? McManus suggests these strategies:

Plan ahead. Find out when you’ll be eating, and plan your day around it. If you know a big dinner will be served at 8 p.m., eat a lighter breakfast and lunch than usual. But also have a healthy snack just before you leave home at 6 p.m. so you don’t arrive at the party feeling hungry; otherwise you’ll overeat.

Go easy at the buffet. Grab a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. You’ll fool yourself into maintaining portion control. Avoid foods that are fried, buttered, creamy, or cheesy. Load at least half of your plate with veggies, then add just a taste of other foods.

Eat slowly. Research shows you’ll eat less food and take in fewer calories if you eat slowly, so pace yourself at holiday meals. Do this by taking small bites, chewing slowly and sipping water between bites. The reason to eat slowly is that it takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you’re full.

Delay drinking alcohol. Alcohol adds calories in a hurry, and it can ruin your resolve. McManus advises that you delay drinking until you begin your meal. Set a limit in advance, and ask your host for help observing the rule.

Don’t beat yourself up. When temptation trumps resolve, don’t feel you’ve failed. Just go back to a healthy eating plan as soon as possible.

Harvard Health Letter