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Seasonal feasts need reining in

Experts offer tips to help mindless eaters curb stuffing.
Friday, November 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

It happened again, didn’t it?

Despite your promises to cut the carbs, trim the fat and count the calories, Thanksgiving came and the turkey wasn’t the only thing that ended up stuffed.

At least you’re not alone. Overeating at Thanksgiving is about as traditional as pumpkin pie. Now it’s just a question of whether you take control or slip into that seasonal binge you promise will stop when the ball drops in Times Square.

If it was just one day a year, it might not matter. But many Americans consume hundreds or thousands of extra calories during the coming weeks — mostly from fat and alcohol — and end up as much as five pounds heavier.

So what’s the solution? Start by sorting out why you overeat, then figure out a holiday survival strategy.

Dr. Robert Kushner, medical director of the weight-loss Web site Diet.com and a professor at Northwestern University School of Medicine, groups holiday overeaters into three categories: mindless munchers, heavy portioners and emotional eaters.

Munchers need to avoid buffet tables, bowls of nuts and candy, plates of sweets at the office and any other situation where it’s easy to absentmindedly snack. Stand on the other side of the room or substitute low-cal snacks.

If quantity is your problem, start by using smaller plates. Also slow down, focus on your food so you recognize when you’re full, and don’t preload your fork with the next bite while still chewing the last one.

“Remind yourself that the food will not disappear if you don’t eat it,” Kushner said.

If emotion is your trigger, create a list of things other than food that make you feel good. When you are on the verge of a breakdown binge, use that list to find another way to soothe yourself.

Regardless of what sets you off, never do anything on an empty stomach. Being hungry at a party or while sitting at your desk makes the buffet table or stack of treats in the break room all the more tempting.

Kushner also suggests a food diary. It’s more difficult to overeat when you are forced to confront each bite in writing.

What if you are suffering from that day-after depressed, bloated feeling? Harness it to set yourself on the right path.

Susan Learner Barr, a dietitian and program director for Weight Watchers, says this is the perfect time to get in the kitchen and divvy up the leftovers. Freeze them in individual servings or give them away.

“Bring them into work, bring them to a thin neighbor,” she said. “The idea is out of sight, out of mouth.”

Next, make a grocery list of all the healthy foods you should be eating during the coming week. Go shopping now while your still-full stomach makes those discounted pumpkin pies and eggnog samples less appealing.

When you get back from shopping, get active. Go for a walk or to the gym. You won’t be the only sluggish one. And try to do it with a friend; support is key to success in dieting.

Even if you don’t follow through, you probably know what you need to cut from your diet. How about what to keep in?

Ninety-six percent of people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast every day, says Ann Yelmokas McDermott, a nutrition scientist at the Tufts University U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrition Research Center.

So if you have a bad night, day or week, don’t punish yourself the next morning by skipping breakfast. That sets you up for failure later in the day when your blood sugar drops and fatigue and cravings hit hard.

It’s good to snack, too. Fruits and veggies may not be as appealing as your co-worker’s sugar cookies, but they will leave you with less guilt. Plus, the natural fiber fills you up more than sweets will.

Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Guilt can lead to depression that leads to more overeating.

“You can’t be festering over it the next three days,” Yelmokas McDermott said. “Start over, and start with breakfast. You can’t beat yourself too much over what you’ve done, but maybe stop and give yourself some time to think.”


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