The holidays are all about best intentions: Finish shopping early, mail those cards on time, and survive the annual fat-filled feeding frenzy. Sorry, we can't lick envelopes or shop for you, but we can arm you with these nine eat-smart tips for indulging without gaining weight.
1. Be a food snob.
Don't waste precious calories on blase fare like chips or crackers. At parties, follow the lead of Leslie Kelly, 48, a restaurant reviewer in Memphis, and try a decadent hors d'oeuvre or the host's signature dish. "I always pick the special items that have lots of love poured into them, take just a small amount, and savor every bite," Kelly says. When you discover something that's not-so-wonderful, though, ditch it (but do it discreetly, of course).
2. Step away from the table.
If you don't put your choices on a plate, "you have no idea how much you're really eating," says Barbara Rolls, PhD, a Pennsylvania State University nutrition professor and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. "The worst thing you can do at a party is stand around the table dipping into the bowl."
3. Veg out.
At the start of a buffet, pile the greens and other tasty veggies on your plate, leaving just a little room for those high-calorie treats like sweets and cheeses. In a survey of more than 7,000 adults, Rolls found that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables were the least likely to be obese, even when they ate more food overall.
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4. Pare down those portions.
Choose the smallest plate possible, suggests Brian Wansink, PhD, a Cornell University professor of nutrition science and marketing. In researching how the eye tricks the stomach, he's found that whether it's Chex Mix, pasta, or even stale popcorn, the bigger the bowl, plate, or package, the more you're likely to eat.
5. Don't talk with your mouth full.
One of the best ways to keep from stuffing yourself at a big family dinner is great conversation, says Rick Bell, ScD, an adjunct associate nutrition professor at Tufts University. But, like Mom says, finish chewing before you start chatting. "When you eat and talk at the same time, you're not really paying attention," Bell explains. Plus, you look pretty gross.
6. Curb your options.
Variety might be the spice of life, but it's also a recipe for overeating. Rolls found that students who were offered sandwiches with four different kinds of filling ate a third more than those who got only their favorite sandwich. Health Advisory Board member David Katz, MD, an associate professor of public health at Yale University, advises bundling together similar flavors. For instance, put only salty (or meaty) foods on your plate at once. You'll grow tired of that flavor more quickly and end up feeling full and satisfied on fewer calories.
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7. Pace yourself.
Take your cue from the slowest eater at the table. Research shows people may eat as much as 50 percent more when dining with friends. That's why on Thanksgiving it seems like you can scarf down five times more food than on any other day. "When someone gets seconds or orders that third glass of wine, you kind of go along by default," says Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. If you're surrounded by speed-eaters, take a sip of water between bites to slow down.
8. Drink slimmer.
Alcohol is a double whammy during the holidays. It tends to weaken your resistance when it comes to eating, and the calories in drinks add up rapidly. "If you want to be a slender drinker, drink out of a slender glass," advises Cornell's Wansink, whose research shows that people tend to drink more from short, fat glasses. So try this optical illusion: Use a white wine glass rather than a goblet, or a highball over a tumbler.
9. Slip, don't slide.
If you eat three helpings of mashed potatoes and half a chocolate Santa, don't just say you blew it and decide you might as well polish off St. Nick. Learn from your slip-up. Did you arrive at the party starving? Did you befriend the buffet because you didn't know anyone? Next time, eat a salad first, start a conversation, and park yourself far from the danger zone. And let next time start today.