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Avoid Holiday Food Traps!

We spend all year keeping to our workout regimens and trying to watch our waistlines, then the holidays come around and we fall flat.

We've all done it. We spend all year vigilantly keeping to our workout regimens and trying to watch our waistlines, then, when the holidays come around, we inevitably fall flat. Holidays are the times to let go, we think, as we sample chocolates delivered to our offices by prospective clients and abandon our workouts in favor of calorie-rich holiday bashes.

This season, you don't have to pack on an extra 10 pounds between 4th of July and New Year's. It just means doing a little pre-planning right now-before Aunt Rose's steaming pumpkin pie beckons, or you start munching your way through yet another tin of mixed nuts. There is definitely a sense of letting down at this time of year but you're still yourself. Eat, but take moderate portions.

Easier said than done, especially when most holiday-related activities center around food and drink. Even though we've begun to expect two months of food-based merriment every fall, developing new tactics to handle temptations can work wonders. That may mean only eating regular meals and not snacking. Be clear what your goals are and think about whether you'd like to maintain or lose weight.

If your goal is weight-maintenance, think about your total caloric intake, instead of nitpicking individual calories or fat grams. Think about fat intake as a whole and don't worry about the type of fat, just get a feel for portions.

The same thing goes for indulgences, like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. You can't eat it every night, but enjoy the slice. Not a quarter of the pie but a small slice as I have a tendency to do sometimes.

Finding ways to limit your overall daily consumption is key as well. Total calorie and fat intake is an average, consumed over several days or longer. Even if we go to a social gathering every night, we can eat less for breakfast and lunch to keep our average down. This involves planning, but it can work.

Holiday Party Tactics

A great opportunity to put this advice into action is at the many holiday parties you're sure to attend this season. The message here is to enjoy the offerings but don't blow all the indulging at one party. Here's one trick: eating something like a piece of fruit or sip a 16-ounce glass of water before you leave your house to keep your appetite in check.

Then, once you arrive at the party, slowly survey the buffet before you plunge in. Don't dive into holiday buffets without getting a sense of exactly what you can eat. Then if you're truly hungry, start with vegetables that won't pile on the fat. If there are things that you're drooling over, eat them and get away from them.

If bolting from the buffet isn't your style, try the hover approach. Here, you can sample the bounty, so long as you hover closer to the vegetable tray than to such high-calorie items as cheese balls, fried appetizers or dips.

Just mingle, instead of chatting next to the food table. Work the room instead of the buffet table. You never know because finding the people who are more interesting than the food can pay dividends after the holidays, too.

Either way, don't think of foods as good or bad. As soon as you think you can't have something, you want it more. One trick that works is to keep a beverage in one hand. If you only have one hand free, you can't hold a plate and pick with the other.

Remember, too, that alcohol is a high-calorie add-on, especially eggnog, a perennial holiday favorite. According to my Calorie Counter Book, the average alcoholic drink has up to 140 calories, a four-ounce glass of wine contains 80 calories and a bottle of beer can tack on about 140 calories to your meal. Not just any calories but the worst kind: empty calories.

You should limit the alcohol you consume during the holidays despite all temptations to want to get loaded with family and friends. Alcohol also impairs your judgment and rational thinking abilities. For instance, after three glasses of wine, you may think you can have five brownies. We all know that's a big no-no.

Before you go to a party, make a deal with yourself or a good friend to keep your consumption in check. This way, he/she can keep an eye out for you just in case you feel that slight tendency to want to cheat. Remember, anything is relatively moderation. Just don't go overboard and you'll feel better about yourself the next day.

Sidestepping Relatives

Let's face it. Our relatives can be our worst enemies during the holidays. It's the whole food is love concept, that rejecting your Mom's apple pie means you don't love her. False! There are ways to get together with the entire clan and leave the table feeling light as a feather, not as blown up as a balloon.

It's called quality over quantity. That means not depriving yourself of holiday favorites, but playing subtle tricks with yourself to avoid overeating. One method is to limit each meal to one entree and one or two side dishes.

You don't want to dread the holidays because of overeating. You should try to emphasis not to make the holidays a food orgy. Instead, you should view the holidays as a time for fellowship over food.

No matter how far we've come, guilting into eating is an age-old problem that's truly hard to overcome. Explain to others that you're not eating less because you enjoy the food less. Some relatives will understand, while others will not.

The best revenge? Eat extremely slow. Nobody's going to hound you if you have something on your plate. Walking around the room with something on your plate also helps you keep control.

Organize Exercise Activities

No matter what, don't forgo the exercise as soon as you recount the Mayflower crossing. Organize a cross-country skiing outing before dinner or take your pooch for a walk before dinner even hits the table. Try to fit a half hour of vigorous exercise into your day. Even if it's cold, bundle up and take a walk. Make a conscious effort to get on a cardio machine.

For me, I schedule so-called "cheat meals" in my precontest diet and before I have them, I will get on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes. This usually takes my mind off of wanting to cheat and even if I still have the urge to eat something bad, it won't be that much because exercise suppresses my appetite to some degree.

These minutes also give you time to get organized and boost your mental health, which is especially important during the holiday seasons.

If necessary, make an appointment with yourself. Sit down and plan to go to the gym. Find an activity you like, workout with someone or run with a pet. No matter what, go easy on yourself.

It's as if we go into the holidays saying "I'm going to blow it and blow it big." A big meal one day doesn't mean you've gained five pounds. If you start thinking that way, you'll lose control and then just decide to keep going until New Year's when you vow to start a new diet.

With that attitude, we're set-ups for failure. Don't think that if you've blown it at the office party, there goes the next six weeks. The body doesn't care if you have occasional blowouts.

In actuality, cheat meals do help your body replenish itself. If we eat an 1,800 calorie Thanksgiving dinner, that's more calories than you'd eat in an entire day. Your body steps up its metabolism to compensate. I call this spiking the metabolism and it does work.

Whatever you do, avoid using the holidays as your big test of willpower, denial and guilt-tripping. Enjoy the time with family and friends but remember to keep everything within moderation and use your better judgment. Until next time, train hard, train smart, stay focused!