Don’t bank on your New Year’s resolutions to keep your weight in check in 2012.
If you want to avoid the average holiday weight gain of eight to nine pounds, plan your diet now. That is the advice of Cathy Cunningham, professor of food, nutrition and dietetics in Tennessee Tech University’s School of Human Ecology.
“To tell yourself that you will lose the weight later is a personal lie,” said Cunningham. “Instead, plan now. Run a calorie deficit a couple of weeks before a holiday.”
In the U.S., the holiday season starts with Halloween and ends with Valentine’s Day. Since weight gain is practically guaranteed if you consume fried foods and sweets, the inclusion of Halloween and Valentine’s Day candies in a diet makes it easy to gain eight to nine pounds from October to February.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With good planning and some simple alterations in food preparations and serving styles, you can cut 500 calories a day, lose a pound per week and ward off weight gain.
Cunningham suggests simple portion control. Use a seven-inch salad plate instead of a dinner plate, which is about the size of a 1970s platter, she said. If you have to use the larger plate, commit to not using the “ledge” to hold even more food.
If you are the host, consider plating the food with beautiful garnishes before serving, if practical, instead of setting up a buffet or placing overloaded serving dishes on the dining table. Visualize the arrangement of food first, whether you are making your own plate or serving others.
“You want to see a topography of various foods, with whole grains, fruits and vegetables being the majority of the area, and the smaller area would be the meat,” said Cunningham. “Create a plate that includes the old favorites and some new possibilities, but most importantly you want a setting that keeps family and friends lingering at the table.”
Once you have a beautiful plate of food, don’t overlook the calories in items like salad dressing and butter. Melted butter does not activate the taste buds as well as non-melted butter, according to Cunningham, and there are 120 calories per tablespoon of butter. Instead of letting butter melt on bread or potatoes, for example, dip the bread or your fork for potatoes into solid butter at each bite. You will consume fewer calories and actually enjoy the buttery taste more. The same principle applies to salad dressing.
If you are doing the cooking, some simple ingredient substitutions can make traditional holiday fare less fattening or reduce the amount of sugar. Consider replacing vegetable shortening and butter in baked goods with baby food plums or prunes or canned pumpkin, particularly in brownies, carrot cake and chocolate cake. “Anything with chocolate or spice,” Cunningham said. It’s a one to one substitution in your recipe, and it does not alter the taste of the finished product. The added bonus is a dish that is higher in iron and soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol, with a more moist texture.
Cunningham also suggests using homemade vegetable broth, which is more flavorful and lower in sodium, to make gravy or other side items. If you happen to be cooking a wild turkey, soak it in a brine solution to make it juicier when you roast it, she said.
“It’s not a complete education to only study the table side of food,” Cunningham said. “Know your food from the farm to the table.”
Grow your vegetables and herbs or buy them locally, and freeze or preserve them for use year round. Study the science of food preparation, evaluate your diet and plan according.
And enjoy the holidays and the feasts that are a part of them without any repercussions from your friendly registered dietitian.