As a child, I wanted nothing more than to sit with the grown-ups at the holiday table. But as the oldest of my four cousins and one brother, that was not possible. I was the designated President of the Little Table; the gatekeeper, if you will, between the two worlds.
The little table was not an actual dining room model, but a flimsy card table butted up to the end of the dining room table as a makeshift ‘extension.’ It was about six inches lower than the main one.
I desperately wanted to be part of the adult conversation.
I’d gaze longingly as my parents had heated debates with my aunt and uncle between bites of stuffing over the proper way to carve the turkey, while I simultaneously dodged mashed potatoes flying at my head, courtesy of my younger cousins.
Today, I’d do anything to avoid big people topics. Politics, healthcare coverage and the latest predictions for the End of the World make me yearn for mashed potato fights.
Still, on the bright side, we had lots of food. Mountains of it. If you’re also from an Italian family, you’ll know I am not exaggerating. The mashed potato scene in Close Encounters is a vague rendition.
Ginormous bowls, platters, gravy boats and plates of every imaginable holiday delicacy, in quantities enough to sustain an army, spread out lavishly on tables that required additional bolstering under all the weight.
And regardless of your heritage, it was ‘game on.’ Calories of any magnitude and volume were considered justifiable.
About Those Calories
Truth is, if you eat as if you’re on death row, you can easily gain five or more pounds before you sweep up the New Year’s confetti.
Myth buster: To do otherwise does not mean you can’t enjoy yourself. But you do need to pick your battles wisely – and incorporate a few tricks to avoid regret come January 2.
You’ll need to address two very important issues: activity and eating. Notice I didn’t say ‘exercise’ and dieting.’ You don’t need a structured exercise regimen as long as you find ways to move.
Also, trying to lose weight while going to parties is about as likely to happen as the government admitting that, yes, extraterrestrials do exist and are living in an underground bunker in your backyard… under that loose dirt next to the rose garden.
I’ll wait while you check.
The Eating Plan
In the meantime, the reality of the holidays is that you need a plan. Not a flowchart with fancy arrows and boxes with color coded labels, although if that’s your thing go right ahead.
What you do need is to keep a few tactics in mind, so you don’t end up at the truck stop weight station to assess the caloric damage.
First, let’s address the most common dietary obstacles if you’re trying to keep calories reined in. It’s always way easier to skip seconds on pecan pie than to do enough exercise to burn off those 450 calories.
Besides, even if you vow you will absolutely, positively go for that hour-long walk regardless of the weather, once you settle down in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a cozy blanket, the chances of actually following through are zero to none.
The key lies in not going overboard in the first place. This way you can avoid having to do food penance. Here are a few tips you can use right away.
Avoid ‘Saving Your Appetite’ for the Party
Skipping – or skimping – on breakfast and lunch so you can go hog-wild at dinner or the cocktail party guarantees you’ll more than compensate for what you didn’t eat earlier.
For example, if you normally eat about 1,300 calories throughout the day, you can easily hit your day’s total quota without batting an eye. Instead, eat a little less all day, but don’t skip meals or you’ll end up ravenous. To take the edge off, have a high-fiber snack like an apple before you go.
Go Pro, aka Protein
Concentrate on taking enough protein. This nutrient not only satisfies you and keeps you full longer, but it also boosts your metabolism.
Your best options are lean proteins such as cocktail shrimp and other seafood varieties, chicken – though not fried – low-fat cheeses, yogurt based dips and lean meats. Good options include shrimp cocktail, Swedish meatballs and ham-wrapped asparagus.
Don’t Be a Dip
Without even saying it, you know the best choice by far at a party, right? Yes, crudites! Although, who goes to a legit party and eats vegetables?
People who dunk that skinny little carrot stick into a vat of sour cream spinach dip, that’s who, thereby bringing up the calorie content from 10 to 110. Cream cheese dips, cheese dip, eggplant dip and sour cream dips clock in at around 50 calories a tablespoon.
A couple good dollops and bam! You’re a couple hundred calories in, and the party’s just getting started. Swap them out for yogurt based dips and vegetable based dips such as roasted pepper. If you choose the richer dips, use them sparingly.
Turn Your Back
Be rude. Not to other guests, but to the table beckoning you with its array of goodies. Turn your back on it. Grab a plate and leave the room, or head somewhere towards a food-free space.
This way you’re not tempted to absentmindedly munch on things just to keep your hands busy. The worst thing you can do is pull up a chair within arm’s reach of the pigs in blankets. Out of sight, out of mind.
Look for Holiday Specials
Make those calories count. In other words, cheese and crackers are not only a calorie bomb, but you can have them any time of the year. They’re not special.
Eggnog, mulled cider and fruitcake – yes, some people, like me, actually like it! – on the other hand, are holiday specific. If you enjoy them, have these in place of the same old same old… in moderation, natch.
Selfies are an important part of the plan. Not of you, necessarily, but your plate. Push that button, then post it on Facebook. Put it out there! I am borrowing this tip from David Garcia, whom I interviewed as part of my Ageless Army project.
He’s lost over 160 lbs, and has kept it off for over six years. “The key,” he says, “is to always be vigilant, holidays or not.” So he fills his plate with healthy items and takes a picture to send out to his social network followers. It may help you stay in line, too.
What’s your biggest temptation during the holidays? How do you fight it? Let’s chat!