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ATLANTA — For years, LaTisha Styles gained weight every holiday season — as much as 10 pounds.
From office parties to holiday parties to her kitchen at home, sweet temptations were a constant of the season: the chocolates, pies, macaroni and cheese.
“I am in charge of the sweet potato pie and we had a few in the house, and honestly, one year, I went through a half a pie cutting and slicing a little taste here and there,” Ms. Styles said.
In a pattern familiar to many Americans, year after year, Ms. Styles expanded her waistline during the last couple of months of the year. And then she started the new year with a serious diet to shed the holiday pounds.
But a couple of years ago, Ms. Styles, now 29, started taking a different approach to the holidays by exercising more and being more mindful of her eating. It’s the sort of strategy that experts embrace.
Ms. Styles’ goal is simple: Come Jan. 1 when she gets on the scale, she will weigh what she does today.
“I used to slow down this time of year,” said Ms. Styles, who lives in Atlanta and works as a database analyst, “but I want to keep things more even-keeled and not be so far behind in being in shape after the holidays.”
During the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, nibbling on chocolates, sugar cookies, and pumpkin pie seems to be a way of life.
The good news is it may not be as bad you think. The average American gains about 1 pound during the winter holiday season, far less than the 5-8 pounds commonly believed, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But the bad news is that people often don’t lose the weight and it can pile on over the years. People who are overweight are more likely to gain 5 pounds during the holidays, according to the NIH.
Experts agree it’s perfectly fine — even healthy — to indulge during the holidays; just don’t go bonkers. No matter what you do, don’t starve yourself or skip meals because that only sets you up for grabbing the closest plate of brownies.
Dr. Stacy Mobley, a naturopathic doctor in Atlanta who focuses on wellness and preventive health care, suggests eating hummus and vegetable sticks and drinking a glass of water before leaving the house.
“That way, you can go to the party and you can socialize and catch up with people instead of being in this ‘feed me’ mode,” Dr. Mobley said.
When you’re at a holiday party, scan the table of delectables to decide which three high-calorie foods you really want. Devote half of your plate to waistline-friendly choices such as sliced fruits and vegetables.
Lanier Dabruzzi, a nutrition affairs manager for the Southeast Dairy Association, said one way to ensure the party offers at least one guilt-free treat is to bring one yourself.
And remember, all of those bites of food (broken Christmas cookies included) really do count.
So do the wine, soft drinks, and calorie-mother lode eggnog (which can pack 400 calories in one mug).
Another way to stave off weight gain is by exercising. Dr. Mobley said a little exercise — as little as a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood — can go a long way with keeping people on track.
“People think of exercising as going to the gym,” Dr. Mobley said. “But it can be as easy as walking around the house for 10 minutes or playing with your kids and grandkids — they will love it, and before you know it, it will add up to 30 minutes in one day.” At the same time, don’t forget to get enough sleep. When you are sleepy, you are more likely to grab food for an energy boost.
Meanwhile, Ms. Styles is running four days a week instead of two, and said she finds herself less tempted to overdo it.
“When you run, you have that sense of accomplishment and you feel on top of the world, and then when you see something heavy with honey dripping on it, you don’t have that urge as much to eat it,” Ms. Styles said.
She still eats sweet potato pie but limits herself to one slice.
“This way, I can be bathing suit ready all year long,” she said.
Indulge with care
Tips for keeping
— Plan ahead: Before you go to the mall, slip a cheese stick and carrot sticks, or another low-fat snack, into your purse (or bag) to fight off temptations in the food court.
— Balance it out. If you are going to a party, eat small, healthy meals beforehand such as a low-fat sandwich for lunch.
— Never go to a party hungry. Take the edge off your hunger by eating a healthy snack such as apple slices, yogurt or vegetable soup.
— Drink plenty of water. And drink a glass before the party to help fill you up.
— Bring your own guilt-free dish to a party so you know there’s at least one you can splurge on.
— Use a small plate so it looks full.
— Remember, you can eat whatever you’d like, as long as it’s in moderation.
— Don’t drink your calories. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all.
— Don’t hang out by the buffet table. Chatting beside it will only tempt you to graze.
— If you want dessert, eat fewer calories during dinner and eat only the desserts you really want.
— Before going back for seconds, wait 20 minutes for your food to “settle.” You might feel full and lose interest in more munching.
Sources: Dr. Stacy Mobley, a naturopathic doctor in Atlanta, and Lanier Dabruzzi, a nutrition affairs manager for the Southeast Dairy Association