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North Hills Monthly

How to Navigate the Holiday Season without Gaining Weight

Nov 01, 2016 06:58AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Dietician, Leslie Bonci

 If you're worried about gaining weight during the holiday season, dietician Leslie Bonci says it's time you changed your mind about that. 

"It's all about your attitude," she explained. "Face the holidays with a positive attitude, and you'll be able to accomplish your goal with a better frame of mind." 

A media personality and author, Bonci represented UPMC for 25 years as sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but in the past year struck out on her own and started Active Eating Advice – Be fit, fed and fearless! – a nutrition consulting company.  

Prepare for Parties
The most important work begins before the first party. "If you have a mindset that you can't do it, you already have strikes against yourself," Bonci warned. "You can force yourself to diet, but you need to have the right mindset, a positive attitude, and the willingness to put forth the effort. It doesn't have to be so difficult."

Start by taking a hard look at your eating habits and noticing when you feel the most hungry. "Find out what your habits are," she advised. "An initial assessment is hard, but you have to be honest with yourself about your level of commitment. How much time will you allocate for tasks like meal preparation and food shopping because the time you spend doing that is time spent not doing something else?”

Preparing for the big office Christmas party means not letting yourself get too hungry beforehand. "If you let yourself get overly hungry because you've been rushing around and trying to get things done, you're setting yourself up for failure," said Bonci. "This happens at the holidays because there's so much food around, and that's what everyone does. It's acceptable."
A light meal such as a hearty vegetable soup or salad beforehand will help with damage control at any food-laden gathering. 

Celebrate Smart by Swapping
Bonci acknowledged that it's not realistic to say that you'll minimize your food intake when faced with goodies you wouldn't normally come across. In this case, try a swap. "There are foods that you eat all the time and others you only see on special occasions. Swap out the carbs you regularly eat, like a roll, with the carbs you really want like sweet potatoes or stuffing. This takes the guilt factor out," she explained. 

In addition, enjoy foods that are unusual and look for lower-calorie appetizers like marinated veggies, sliced fruit, pickles and cherry tomatoes, and eat pumpkin prepared in every way possible. "Pumpkin is low-calorie, high-fiber and full of vitamins," Bonci said. "Serve pumpkin smoothies in shot glasses, like an appetizer, with nutmeg sprinkled on top. Or you can heat it up and make it savory by mixing pureed pumpkin and chicken broth."

Portion Control and Alcohol
Control the size of the pour by using a smaller glass. "If you like wine, make it a spritzer by adding seltzer water," Bonci said, warning that alcohol contains empty calories, and that sugary mixtures make a difference. "Make it a diet drink, like a Bloody Mary with vodka. A nice bubbly drink is lovely, because you sip instead of swig."

Treat yourself...a little bit. "Have eggnog, but treat it as a dessert,” she added. “Do a shot instead of drinking a whole glass or add in pumpkin to dilute it."

Words Matter
Issuing ultimatums about what you will not eat makes for a miserable holiday season. "If you change your mindset and start with the word 'enjoy' instead of 'deprive' it takes the pressure off,” Bonci said. “Enjoy means accept. Use a smaller plate and be careful, but enjoy what you eat and take the time to really relish every bite instead of shoveling it in. It's about being mindful, not deprived."

Walking Can Do Wonders
Using overzealous exercise to make up for overeating can cause an injury, so Bonci advised striking a balance between the carbs you eat and how much physical activity you can actually do. "People often overestimate the calorie burn they get in terms of exercise," she noted.
After a big meal a brisk walk around the block can do wonders. "Walking after a large meal physically removes you from the food," she said, adding that gravity will help you digest. "Moving your arms and legs will help move the food along as well as relieve any bloating."

You know that miserable feeling of being too full? Bonci said this doesn't have to always be the outcome. The choice is up to you.

Bonci's Basic Pumpkin Smoothie 

» One small banana or apple
» Half a cup of Greek yogurt
» Half a cup of liquid, like milk
» Half a cup of canned pumpkin 
» Pumpkin pie spice

Blend all together to reach a smooth consistency. If you need some sweetness, a little bit of maple syrup goes a long way.