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Holiday Events: Tips on Keeping Your Weight Stable

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Saturday, 6th December ,2014

I don’t know how many holiday parties you and your family plan to attend this year, but that time is coming soon.  Thanksgiving is over, but we have two more high calorie consumption holidays to go through.  So far, I will have 6 holiday events to go to in December, starting on the first weekend of the month!  These events are all with our good friends, so we find it hard to decline the invitations.

Below are a few tips on what I have done over the years to keep my weight stable during the holiday:

1.  Don’t skip any meal before a holiday event: 

People often tell me how they “starve” themselves to wait for a holiday meal at the end of the day.  It’s definitely a bad idea, as holiday foods tend to be laden with calories.  They taste good because of the extra sugar or butter or cream added.  If you come to a party almost half full, you still can enjoy the taste of each dish, just less bites and thus calories.  When I was young, my mother often made us eat something before leaving for a party.  She didn’t want us to “pig out” at someone else’s home.  It makes the parents look bad when their kids eat as if they have never been fed, she used to tell us.  It was a polite tactic from my mother, but it should apply to us adults if we want to control our weight.  

2.  Avoid juice or sodas.  Water is your friend.

I don’t drink juice or soda at most parties.  Why consume more artificial sweets before eating desserts? Drinking soda, I rationalize to myself, is like drinking sweet chemicals.  Why drink chemicals? They belong to a chemistry lab, not your body!  If plain water is too boring for you, add a few slices of cucumbers or pieces of berries or lemons from the fruit section at the party, or squeeze some lemon/lime/oranges into your water.   Most parties have these fruits at dessert section. There have been studies all over the world about the detrimental effect of drinking sodas including the link to various cancers.  I wrote a blog last year about it and do not need to bore you with more details.  If you have type 2 diabetes, you should know from recent studies how it might not help drinking diet instead of regular soda.  Staying away from soda would be your smartest move. 

3.  Eat Slowly, chew carefully, and mingle with your friends.  Talking, talking, talking, is a good trick.

I always remind myself at holiday parties that it might not be the last event I will go to.  Besides, I am there to see my friends and not just to eat.  Many nutritionists remind their clients to put their forks down in between bites, sip some water, talk to somebody, before taking another bite.  How does it help?  Think about the time you give the food to reach your stomach and giving you the sensation of being full.  It takes the brain 20-30 minutes to recognize you are full.  Eating too quickly is like hoarding.  Before you know it, your garage would be overfilled with unnecessary items.  Your body should be more important than your garage.

To have a partner at every meal is also helpful, as he or she will help distract you from your plates.

4.  Don’t linger at your favorite food station.

Seriously, you need to exercise a little bit even at a party.  Move around to see different people.  Don’t stand near the buttery roast beef plate for too long.  High calorie food has a way to get you.  They shouldn’t be your best friends.  Don’t linger over the dessert table while having your coffee.  Take half a piece of a pie and walk away.  Hopefully, with all the fun conversations, you will not find the need to go back and look for the other half of that piece of pie.  Even better, put some fresh fruit on your dessert dish, next to your piece of pie.  A few grapes might satisfy your sweet tooth.

Even with salads, beware of the hidden calories in the dressings.  I listened to one piece  of advice from Jane Fonda and started to put the dressing next to my salad.  It’s a good trick not to get your salad all soggy and, by dipping the lettuce leaves into the dressings instead of pouring it all over your salad, you avoid the extra calories from these high calorie dressings.

5.  Be mindful of how much alcohol you drink.

I believe alcohol is among the most important reasons why many of us can’t keep our weight down.  Many of us know alcohol has many calories, but very few realize how fast we can drink.  It always shocked me whenever I noticed a friend or office staff member who finished 4 bottles of beer before the main course even arrived.  Each 12 ounce beer bottle, on average, has more than 130 calories!  Below are some typical drinks and their calories.  You can get an extensive list of alcohol drinks and calories from the website link http://getdrunknotfat.com 

--Sauvignon Blanc: 143 Calories/5 ounces

--Martini: 295 calories/4 ounces

---Vodka+Diet Coke: 258 Calories/12 ounces

--Cabernet Sauvignon: 105 Calories/5 ounces

--Gin &Tonic: 255 Calories/12 ounces

I fortunately can’t drink much alcohol.  I don’t have the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, so just a glass of wine can make me turn red and feel a little sick.  It’s one of the genetic traits (or lack thereof) that I appreciate! 

To look “sociable” at holiday parties, I often have half a glass of wine in front of me, next to my usual glass of water.  Occasional sips of wine are more than enough for me.  Can we be mindful of our alcohol drinking?  I strongly believe so.  Like everything else in life, you chose the path on which you travel.  It’s the mind, not the taste buds, which should guide you through healthy living. 

6.  Exercise the day of the party. 

If you haven’t done so, you should go back and read some of the “health pearls” I posted earlier this year.  One of them was a study in which a group of type 2 diabetic patients did a 6 minute fast walk before a major meal, and how their sugar level was found to be lower after their meal than those who didn’t do this simple exercise.  Just a 6 minute walk, about the same amount of time for a commercial break during a sports game!  Six minutes of walking which can help prolong your life, if you are a diabetic.

You should do a brisk walk with your children or your spouse before going to a holiday party. If you belong to a gym, go to an aerobic class that day.  If you don’t have a gym membership, get to a nearby mall, leave your credit cards at home or wallet hidden somewhere in the car, then do your brisk walk up and down the mall for at least half an hour.  Avoid the food court in the mall at all cost!  You need to feed yourself a little bit before the party, as I stated above, but not with high calorie food!

7.  Use smaller plates and bowls if available.

This trick, recommended by nutritionists or weight watcher programs, will help control your serving size.  Of course, as one of above tips, do not linger at high calorie stations with your small plates.  You will have the urge to refill this small plate if you are not mindful.  After a few beers or glasses of wine, your mind might no longer be mindful!

While I was writing the above tips, my helpful husband conducted some research online to see how many calories we consume from typical food items we often find at holiday parties.  I would not suggest you look at these examples before going to your holiday parties, or the hosts would find you standing at the salad station, chewing on carrots and celery like a rabbit.  Life is short, don’t live to eat like a rabbit.  Remember, for all the healthy things rabbits eat, their lifespan is shorter than ours.

Below are some typical holiday food items, the associated calories, and activities you would need to do to burn these calories off:

-- 3 slices of Honey Glazed Ham: 360 calories, which equals 1 hr 41 minutes walking, or 41 minutes jogging, or 30 minutes swimming, or 55 minutes cycling.

-- 2 spoons bread pudding ( 3-4oz): 380 calories equal to 1hr 45 minutes walking,or 43 minutes jogging, or 32 mins swimming, or 52 mins cycling.

-- 1 slice of Apple Pie: 414 calories, equal to 1hr 55 min walking, or 48 minutes jogging, or 35 mins swimming, or 1hr 3 min cycling.

-- 1 cup Egg Nog: 344 calories equal to 1hr 35 mins walking, or 39 minutes jogging, or 29 mins swimming, or 52 mins cycling.

-- 3 Dinner rolls (9oz) 233 calories, equal to 1hr 4 minutes walking, or jogging 27 mins, or swimming 15 mins, or cycling 35 minutes.

--1 cup of Scalloped Potatoes (8oz) 228 calories equal to 1hr 3min walking, or 26 mins jogging, or 19 mins swimming, or 35 mins of cycling.


So far, do you think you would be able to consume all the above calories in one holiday gathering? To burn all the calories off of the meal I described above, you would have to walk 9 hours and 3 minutes, and I think it better be a brisk walk, not a leisurely walk.  If you think you might consume more than the above items, well, you better learn how to run, as I don’t think you will have time to walk all that off in a week.  If you are not mindful about your eating and drinking habits, you can easily consume 3000 calories after a few hours of holiday partying.  In fact, the Calorie Control Counsel reported that the average American consumes about 4500 calories during a typical holiday gathering.   Did you know it would take 6 hours of intense aerobic classes to burn 3000 calories, which would help you lose only one pound?   Life is never fair when it comes to eating and burning calories with exercise. It’s almost an injustice! Unless you have time to go to 6 aerobic classes the week after your holiday party, you will be stuck with another pound.  If more parties are coming, well...you know what will happen after the holidays.  If your neighbors keep their windows opened, they will hear you screaming as you stand on your bathroom scale.  It shouldn’t have been a shock to you!

On the other hand, I don’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.  Eat, drink and be merry, certainly, as it’s the season of joy.  Be mindful, however, of how much you should eat, how much alcohol you should drink, and how much time you have to exercise.  Our mind, not our stomach, should guide how we live.  Moderation is the key to a happy holiday.  I don’t want to eat like a rabbit during the holiday season, as I love different types of food, but I definitely don’t want to look like a ham after the holiday either. 

 I know it’s difficult to control our appetite.  Can we, however, control our eating habits during the holidays? Of course we can.  While driving, most of us have no problem stopping at a red light by pushing gently on the brake instead of slamming on the accelerator.  Why would we do that so automatically?  Because we know if we don’t, we can get killed or kill someone else if our car crashes into theirs.  Treat your body like your car, although it should be even more important than your car.  Learn how to brake when it comes to eating and drinking, as poor eating and drinking habits can kill you too. 

Enjoy your holiday parties.  Remember, we are there for our friends, not for the food and drinks alone!  Sing after the holidays while standing on your scale; do not scream.

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