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Diet tips for the holidays
By Melissa Hutsell

‘Tis the season for the celebration of family, friends…and food. The holidays can be a real diet-buster, as this time of year brings plenty of opportunities to drink, socialize and eat. Every event can be an occasion to splurge and indulge – even the strict dieters can be tempted. For this very reason, a strategy is needed to fight the bulge or those extra celebratory calories. Survive the season gracefully and do not fret with these simple tips and tricks to keep your waistline in check.

1. If you are cooking, choose recipes that are low in fat and calories. This means replacing traditional sweeteners in casseroles, coffees or desserts with low calorie sweeteners or sugar substitutes. Use vegetable, olive oil, extracts or even applesauce instead of butter. Opt for whole grain pastas and bread instead of white.

Ruben Andujo, nutrition specialist and fitness trainer at Andylu Nutrition and Fitness, urges people to do their research to find more nutritious options. “You can throw together appetizers that are lean and healthy,” said Andujo. Look for recipes that have a good balance of carbs, fats and protein.

2. Andujo also recommends filling up on the main course.
“Eat more turkey, it's lean and loaded with protein and healthier than many trimmings. Eat more meat during your meal and stick to smaller serving of side dishes.”
Not only does lean protein, such as turkey, help you stay more full longer, it helps build muscles.

3. There is a tendency to eat and drink more while exercising less during this time of year. Between the events and the meals, it is hard to find time for the regular exercise regimen or gym.

To stay active, try going for a walk right after a meal, suggests Andujo. Try starting a new tradition of taking a walk after a family meal and encourage others to join you. Instead of crashing on the couch, decrease your chances of keeping the extra weight on by working off that pie.

4. “Drink plenty of water. This can help curb your appetite,” says Andujo. This also helps portion control as well. Taking a drink between bites can make you feel more full or satisfied, and slow down your eating. In fact, studies show that those who drink one glass of water before each meal consume approximately 75 less calories per meal. Multiply this by 365, and that is a difference of nearly eight pounds per year.

Andujo adds that a startling “42 percent of Americans admitted to hospitals are technically dehydrated.” When dehydrated, your system works less efficiently. Staying hydrated boosts your metabolism. Even being slightly dehydrated can significantly slow down your metabolism and hinder your ability to digest properly.

5. Starving yourself before a meal can easily back fire says Andujo. “Eat several small meals before [the big meal].” Do not starve yourself. This can make it much easier to overeat. Instead, eat small portions a few times before your meal.

6. Alcohol can be an enemy to our waistlines. While Andujo and nutritionists alike agree that avoiding alcohol is always a good idea, it is not always realistic, especially during the holidays. Try cutting back by switching off between an alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage. When mixing drinks, use soda water instead of soft drinks, and fresh squeezed juices instead of a sugary syrup. Even cider can be sweetened with berries, fruit or spices like cinnamon. For dairy based drinks, opt for low fat or skim milk.

7. Perhaps the most important tip to remember is “Don’t worry if you gain two or three pounds,” says Andujo. “That is perfectly normal. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” After all, the holidays are a special occasion to enjoy with some of your favorite foods. It is okay to indulge a little, but in sensible portions. Studies show that the average American gains approximately one or two pounds during the holidays – so no need to panic - but this can add up if unmindful. Pay attention and stick to your plan as emphasized by the American Heart Association.

According to the Calorie Control Council, the average holiday dinner alone can carry 3,000 calories, and this doesn’t include pre-meal snacking or drinking, which can add up to another 1,500 calories, totaling nearly 4,500 calories. To put this into perspective, that is equivalent to eating three sticks of butter.