Dr. Ann Kulze

Let’s face it – many people use the traditional Thanksgiving feast as a kick-off to a holiday eating frenzy that lasts through to the New Year – tipping the scales in the direction of unhealthy weight gain. The good news is that the “Holiday 10” is an urban myth. In reality, most Americans actually gain around a pound. The bad news is that studies show the weight gained over the winter holiday isn’t lost during the rest of the year. Over time, this yearly “pound creep” can have a devastating impact on your health, as weight gain can increase your risk of a number of chronic diseases including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Keep in mind that it’s much easier to prevent weight gain than to get the pounds off after the fact. Here is my best advice for enjoying the holidays without wrecking your waistline and your health.

1. Stay away from foods that rev up your appetite A.K.A. “The Great White Hazards” – white flour products, white rice, and white potatoes.  Holidays are already a dietary pitfall for most – these foods add insult to injury. Choose whole grains and beans as the alternative to starchy white stuff. Whole grains and beans are super healthy and provide long-lasting appetite suppression.  Try:

  • Bean salad instead of potato salad.
  • Brown rice over white rice.
  • One hundred percent whole grain crackers or breads over the “white” ones.
  • Just say no to the rolls and biscuits.

2. Minimize your liquid calories! Liquid calories (soda, fruit drinks, fruit juices, caloric mixers and other sweet drinks) tend to be very fattening on 2 fronts: liquid sugars illicit rapid surges of blood glucose and insulin that perpetuate appetite and put the body in fat storage mode and liquid calories provide no bulk in the GI tract (physical bulk in the GI tract is a powerful appetite suppressant.)

  • Make water or unsweetened tea your beverage of choice.
  • When you choose to have “a drink,” make wine, light or low-carbohydrate beer, or spirits with a non-caloric mixer your first choice.

3. Be sure to have some protein at each meal. Protein is nature’s diet pill.The digestion of protein gives rise to a steady and more prolonged blood glucose level which translates to less hunger and more energy! The healthiest proteins are fish, shellfish, poultry, beans, wild game, soy, omega 3 eggs, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products. Try:

  • White turkey meat over prime rib.
  • Lean cold cuts over Swedish meatballs.
  • Bean dip or hummus over onion or artichoke dip.

4. Fill up first on foods that have lots of bulk but minimal calories i.e. the “big, yet skinny” fruits and veggies. As I mentioned earlier, physical bulk in the GI tract provides great appetite suppression.

  • At a holiday cocktail party, go straight to the fruit and veggie platter and really indulge; use high fat dips sparingly. If available, make bean dips (hummus) your first choice.
  • Fill two-thirds of your plate with fruits, veggies and beans before choosing the rest of your meal.
  • At holiday dinners, eat a big tossed salad or a couple of servings of a veggie side dish before the rest of the meal.

5. Don’t let yourself get hungry! It takes fewer calories to prevent hunger than it does to deal with it once it occurs.  Always consume 3 meals a day, with snacks between meals as necessary, to keep your hunger at bay. Withholding food for several hours or more leads to low blood sugar (excessive hunger), slows down your metabolism and primes the pancreas to release extra fat-storing insulin when you finally eat. In addition, true hunger elicits a primal fear and anxiety response that sets you up for dietary indiscretions.

  • Have a snack an hour before you arrive at a holiday gathering. My top pick is a small handful of nuts along with a piece of fruit or fresh raw veggies dipped in hummus.

6. Make exercise a priority! It’s a fantastic safeguard against weight gain and helps compensate for holiday indulgences. It’s also the perfect tonic for the stress and anxiety we all experience during the holiday season (many people binge when stressed.)

  • Take a “family walk” after your holiday feast.
  • Sign up for a holiday road race.
  • Schedule in advance a regular work-out with a trainer.
  • Recruit a holiday walking buddy.
  • Incorporate walking into your holiday shopping; wear comfortable shoes, and do as much of it as you can on foot.
  • Don’t forget that house cleaning and yard work count as exercise too!

7. Be prudent in satisfying your sweet tooth.

  • Fresh fruit salad, a piece of high quality dark chocolate, or a cup of “real” hot cocoa is delicious and nutritious.
  • If you prefer other goodies, be mindful of your portions.

8. Drink alcohol in moderation. Overindulgence loosens inhibitions and increases the risk of dietary indiscretion (and a number of other health risks.) For many too much alcohol in the evening triggers excessive morning hunger and cravings for starchy junk foods. And the calories in alcohol can really add up!

  • At parties, drink a full glass of water between each alcoholic beverage.
  • Always make sure there is some food in your stomach before you have a drink.
  • Don’t feel obligated to attend every party – choose your holiday parties wisely.

9. Get your beauty rest! Provocative new science reveals that sleep deprivation enhances appetite and increases cravings for diet-sabotaging foods like sweets, chips, breads and pasta. Late-night partying is a risk for expanding waistlines on multiple fronts! In addition, sleep deprivation reduces energy and enthusiasm for exercise.

10. Avoid mindless eating – approach every meal, every snack and every party mindfully.

  • Don’t linger over the buffet table or hover over the hors d’oeuvres, nibbling as you engage in conversation.
  • Pre-plate everything (meals, hors d’oeuvres, dessert, etc.) We tend to eat less if we can view it all before we start.

Check out my video for more tips and strategies to avoid weight gain and to eat smart during the holidays. Until next time – Enjoy the holidays and your health!

Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Ann G. Kulze, M.D. is a noted nutrition and wellness expert, physician, motivational speaker and member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s board of directors. Her new book, Eat Right for Life, is a blueprint for healthy eating. Scientifically based and spelled out in a way that is easy to understand and easy to follow, Dr. Ann’s strategies will help you feel great for good – and stay well for life.