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Beat the holiday bulge

Navigating your way through countless holiday parties can wreak havoc on the person watching his/her waistline. UNC's Dr. Cynthia Bulik offers some key ways to beat the holiday bulge.

Media contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 966-8757, ccolmena@unch.unc.edu

Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009

CHAPEL HILL -- Many of us weigh more in January than in December, the likely result of too many cups of eggnog or return trips to the table. Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., the William and Jeanne Jordan Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and director of the UNC Eating Disorders Program, and her staff offer a few helpful tips concerning holiday eating habits.

“The typical American adult gains about a pound during the winter holidays,” Bulik said. “That doesn’t sound like much, but that weight often has staying power.”

Bulik recommends setting reasonable holiday goals. “I advocate weight maintenance instead of weight loss during the holidays,” she said. “Trying to lose weight right now only adds stress and can set you up for failure.”

And definitely don’t try the pre-holiday crash diet so that you can make it all up during the holidays. Chances are you’d wake up in January weighing even more than you do before the crash diet.

To help with a weight maintenance regimen, Bulik and her staff offer the following tips:

  • Do a plateless reconnaissance mission. When you get to a holiday event – especially a buffet – take a good look around without a plate in your hand, then choose the main things you want to try. You don’t have to try them all. Once you’ve decided, get a plate and stick to your decision!
  • Don't skip meals. The “I’ll skip lunch to save up for dinner” strategy often backfires. It is much better to keep regular mealtimes even during the holidays.
  • Start the (smart) party early. Take the edge off your hunger before you overindulge at a party by eating a low-calorie snack, nuts or raw veggies or an apple.
  • Drink smart. Ask for water and a lime twist rather than alcohol at parties. Alcohol can stimulate your appetite, which is exactly what you don't want to happen. Or alternate; a glass of wine followed by a glass of water.
  • Get out and walk. Invite your friends, family and colleagues to join you on a brisk walk to enjoy the frosty winter air. This provides exercise, gets you away from the table and makes you feel much more lively after big holiday meals than just collapsing on the couch.
  • Start a food diary. Although we often don’t have time around the holidays, consider starting a food diary afterwards to help you identify unhealthy habits and patterns and make you aware of any necessary changes you need to make.
  • Eat Mindfully. Eat slowly and be mindful of the food you are eating.  Try to eat at a table and avoid distractions like the TV or the telephone which can lead to mindless eating.
  • Be a mindful snacker. With extra cookies, latkes or chocolates sitting around the house, remember that all the extra bites add up! Make sure to sample your favorite treats in moderation, but balance the high calorie/high cholesterol snacks by also reaching for the crudités or nuts.
  • Eat for pleasure. Don’t eat to prove Aunt Sally wrong or eat less than cousin Debbie. The holidays can be an opportunity to observe the unsaid rules about food in your family and understanding those can be an unexpected holiday gift. The mix of large groups of family members, alcohol, and an unsaid pressure for everything to be holiday card perfect can be dangerous.
  • Practice saying “No thank you” in a polite yet assertive way: Part of our problem is having difficulty saying no. Your host will get over it if you don’t have a second helping or if you don’t try everything.  If she says, “Did you try my seven layer cookies?” you can say, “You know I just had one of your almond crescents and they were absolutely divine, I would love it if you would share the recipe.” Or if he offers you more of something simply say, “I’m good! In fact I’m so good, your beans were just fantastic!” A compliment goes a long way towards getting someone distracted from the fact that they were trying to get you to eat more.
  • Finally, don’t hide from your scale. Although your weight will fluctuate because of daily changes and retaining fluids, you'll be able to spot a trend in the wrong direction and correct it, if necessary. This also saves you the sticker shock in January.
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