How to avoid packing on holiday pounds

December 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

We all have our holiday favorites, and when it comes to celebrating festive food tops the list. But over indulge and you'll pay the price.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, most people never lose the one to two pounds they gain during the holidays. The news is worse for those already overweight. Many will average a 5-pound weight gain this time of year.

"To balance out your meal and not choosing everything in the higher calorie version but maybe picking amongst your favorites," said dietitian Holly Pudwill.

Start with appetizers. Skip the cocktail meatballs weighing in at 85 calories each and load up on shrimp cocktail with just 13 calories per shrimp.

Now let's talk turkey. Should you go white meat or dark? While white meat has less calories, about 46 in an ounce, dark meat only has four more per ounce.

"So if you're eating a normal serving size like 4 or 5 ounces, you're really only saving 20 or 25 calories," said Pudwill.

Just trim the skin, which is where most of your fat and calories hide.

Pecan pie can pack a whopping 500 calories a slice. If you are doing the baking, try this and slash 200 calories.

"You can use a little bit less nuts and add in some oats. And that's going to bump up the fiber while taking down the fat," said Pudwill.

Dr. Angela Odoms-Young , a nutrition and kinesiology researcher at UIC, has the scoop on one of the biggest hidden calorie culprits: seasonal drinks. Just a couple of cups of alcohol or egg nog or punch - even just one fancy coffee drink - can be swimming in calories. One trick to limiting food intake is to use a smaller plate. The same can work for beverages.

"You shouldn't get a huge cup. You should get a small cup and then limit yourself to one or two," said Odoms-Young.

Another tip: avoid or limit the amount of hot foods you take. They tend to be the ones fried or dripping in high-fat sauces. And one way to really do damage at a holiday party is to skip meals before the buffet.

"Plan, because when we don't plan that's where we just go crazy. So plan. Eat your normal meals and then when you go to a holiday party say, I'm just going to have two, and then enjoy people after that," said Odoms-Young.

If you hear that voice in your head say, oh this is a special occasion, I'll eat healthier next month, keep this in mind. Odoms-Young says 3,500 calories is roughly equivalent to a pound of body weight. So if you average an extra 500 calories a day, which can be achieved by eating a few hot wings, drinking punch and taking larger portions, you can easily gain a pound a week. Shifting the focus from food to friends can help.

"Focus in on people and change our way of thinking. Holidays are not to just eat everything at one. They are to enjoy and to really enjoy that personal connection," said Odoms-Young.

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