The holidays can be hazardous to your diet. In a recent column on mindless eating, Cornell University eating expert Brian Wansink explained that we often overeat during the "diet danger months," not because the food is so good, but because of the cues around us, such as family, friends and other distractions.
We asked readers to tell us how they keep from pigging out while party-hopping. They were eager to share their favorite diet-saving tips.
Eating a light meal before going out is a key strategy for a number of folks. Many readers try portion control. William Earp of Malott, Wash., drinks a lot of water before parties. Another reader sucks on strong mints as an appetite suppressant during events.
Yvette Soto of Bedford, Texas, uses smaller plates and loads up on vegetables. "Less on the plate, less on me," she wrote.
Readers also shared some warnings. "Beware the clean up! Many people do well at the table and then eat the equivalent of another meal as they put away left-overs," noted Peggy Freeman of Morrisville, Vt.
Read on for more advice:
If I know I am going to "pig out" I compensate by eating less during the day and doing extra cardio that day and the day after. I would rather sweat an extra half hour or so instead of giving up some of my favorites. Also, I typically fill up on veggies and skip dessert for the most part.
Diana Hrabsky, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.
My wife's extended family and I play group board games after dinner. Since we play at the dinner table, the food has to be cleared away. Out of sight, (almost) out of mind.
Tim O'Mara, New York
Weight loss starts in the supermarket. Take a list and leave when you have everything on the list. OK, a few things you might have to add because you forgot them, but don't wander around buying things on impulse. Prepare salad-type snacks in advance and keep them in a container in the fridge. Carrots, celery, cucumber, radish, turnip and plum-size tomatoes are all OK. You can snack on these whenever you feel hungry.
Fred Colbourne, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
I just went to a party Friday night. I ate dinner before I left home and I kept reminding myself of that fact. Surprise, surprise. It worked. I didn't go near the buffet table.
Jackie, Washington, D.C.
I use a salad plate as a dinner plate.
I bring my own 100-calorie-pack desserts to buffet parties. I drink about 16 ounces of water after I eat my carefully chosen dinner and have my "treat." Within 15 to 20 minutes I have absolutely no desire to go back to the buffet. I indulge in good conversation for those few minutes before my body's crave clock turns off. I've lost 30 pounds, and nothing tastes better than skinny feels.
Eating a small dessert before eating the entree.
Jerry, Morgantown, W.Va.
Maintaining your weight during the holidays or any other time of year is all about self-discipline and knowing what you really want. You can read all the tips, tricks and scholarly articles in the world, but these things can't give you the power to control what you put in your own mouth. Only you can do this. What it comes down to is that either you truly in your heart want to maintain your weight — and will do whatever it takes to achieve this end — or you don't. It's not about eating what everyone else at the party or buffet table is eating. It's about doing what you know you have to do to maintain your weight. It's hard, and you feel like you're missing out on the fun, but that's a small price to pay in my opinion. It's much easier to keep weight off than it is to lose it once you've gained it.
Steve Regis, Los Angeles
I usually eat a light meal before I go to a holiday party. I try to have a container of raspberries and a small yogurt. I also drink a small bottle of water beforehand and I don't eat anything from the buffet table that has a cream sauce over it or something that is swimming in butter. If there's a chance to have steamed shrimp, go for it. Skip the dessert table and just have coffee. If someone notices that you aren't eating dessert, lie like a rug and tell them you already had yours and it was delicious!
Deb Sterling, Clifton, Va.
Get in line later. Put off the food. Then there is a better chance the good stuff will be gone. Be very social; you can't eat and talk at the same time. Keep busy, burn the calories.
Lynn, Faribault, Minn.
I always keep a full glass of club soda with me at all times. I refill it frequently and it prevents me from overeating because the carbonation in the liquid fills me up. I can mix it with a small amount of fruit juice if I want something sweet. I sometimes drink eight glasses during a long holiday dinner, but it prevents me from overloading my plate with empty calories which will inevitably lead to a weight gain during the holidays.
Wendy Charles, New York
I tell myself I have eaten that before and I know what it tastes like. It always helps me when I want to over-eat.
Barbara Farris, Yukon, Okla.
We decided to cut out appetizers except for one or two healthier options. Appetizers are a lot of times full of fat and calories anyway so this helps us from getting stuffed before the actual meal.
Caroline, Grayslake, Ill.
For me, I keep myself busy with conversation and helping out with the event-serving, cleaning up, etc. This leaves me less time for eating and also, most of it gets eaten by others which leaves me less to be tempted by.
Lynn Baum, Scottsbluff, Neb.
I used to save up on hunger if I was going out for dinner or to a holiday party. Now I make sure I don't skimp on my meals during the day. This helps me avoid extreme hunger ... I make the holidays a time where I increase the intensity of my workouts, which helps me not gain when I do have that pumpkin pie ... I don't want to feel like I am left out by not having some holiday treats. This way I can have a little here and there, but my intensity of workouts helps me not feel too bad. Also, I am working too hard to want to give it all back.
Rebecca, Asheville, N.C.
My dieting tip is to eat half or just a small taste of what is being served.
Eileen Sachs, Pikesville, Md.
Eat ice-cream-scoop amounts of the rich foods and totally enjoy them. Help yourself to larger, but limited, portions of the leaner foods — turkey breast, salads, vegetables, etc. — and savor the entire meal. You do yourself no favor by feeling deprived and guilt-ridden, rather than happily satisfied but not stuffed. If you skimp, you will undoubtedly compensate later — maybe ice cream that night ... One caution — beware the clean up! Many people do well at the table and then eat the equivalent of another meal as they put away leftovers! It doesn't taste nearly as good when licked off the spoon! Save the leftovers for another day! It's a great way to really enjoy the holidays and set a good example for your children! You won't dread the weeks after, but will be ready to kick back into your normal routine with little damage done and wonderful holiday memories to savor.
Peggy Freeman, Morrisville, Vt.
Use smaller plates or keep food within the border design of the plate. I like to do half of the plate with veggies or salad, one-quarter of the plate with a protein. Then I spread it out to look like more. Less on the plate, less on me.
Yvette Soto, Bedford, Texas