- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

We’ve all been there one night or another — stuffing ourselves, plowing through champagne punch, not thinking of the hangover sure to follow the next morning. It’s a familiar holiday tradition. What harm is a little seasonal indulgence?

Well, when you consider that the holiday season starts around Thanksgiving and goes through the week after New Year’s Day, it can do plenty of harm. We’re talking six weeks — almost 12 percent of the year. That’s a lot of time for the binge eating we rationalize “because it’s the holidays.”

Part of what makes us overindulge during the holidays is, quite simply, peer pressure. As a society, we have it fixed in our heads that eating and drinking excessively is the norm this time of year. Everyone is doing it, and so should we.

I’m not suggesting that this is the time of year to start dieting — I don’t believe in diets, anyway. However, it is a perfect time to be mindful and begin listening to your body.

Remember that the purpose of food is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. If you want to achieve your true health potential, you need to nourish your body and take care of it. This isn’t just something you do for a while or at certain times during the year and then quit; this is what you need to do every day for the rest of your life — even when you’re on vacation and during the holidays.

On average, Americans eat out about 4 times per week. During the holidays, I’m pretty sure, that frequency is pushed up a notch. Between the huge portions, the hidden fats on menus, the excess sweet calories, the sodium and extra liquor consumption, it’s very easy and tempting to overeat.

What’s the solution?

First and foremost, do not skip meals. If you’re thinking about skipping breakfast to gorge on dinner, that’s the wrong approach. Skipping meals to splurge on others is an easy way to overindulge, especially when you’re so hungry.

You can, however, limit the amount of calories you consume at breakfast and lunch — just don’t skip. You also may want to consider a eating small snack at home before the evening begins to avoid overeating.

I encourage my clients always to stop halfway through a meal and ask themselves where they fit on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being stuffed). Stop as you hit about 7. Any higher, and you’re heading toward a food coma. This is what we want to avoid.

Eat a high-fiber breakfast (e.g., high-fiber cereal, oatmeal, egg-white omelet with veggies). Fiber helps keep you fuller longer, and breakfast in itself is the way to get the metabolism kicking. Be wary of “specialty” coffee drinks — they have tons of extra calories. (Some push 500.)

Menus are like the “Where’s Waldo” of hidden fats and calories. Choose foods that are grilled, steamed, broiled, stir-fried, au jus, poached or raw. Foods that have sauces, marinades and gravies are laden with fats and calories — avoid and limit. If you must, ask for these sauces on the side and dip your food. As a rule, simply prepared foods (such as grilled salmon with lemons and capers) often are lower in fats and calories.

You may not be at Burger King, but you still can have it your way. When dining out, request substitutions for undesirable accompaniments.

Ask for double orders of veggies instead of mashed potatoes or for salad in place of French fries. Ask for certain foods even if you don’t see them on the menu (skim milk, fresh fruit and whole-wheat bread). They may be available.

You can do this yourself at parties. Take control of what goes onto your plate. At a buffet table, pile half your plate with veggies and salads, then a small portion of protein and the carbs. Before you go back for round two, remember the scale and ask yourself where you fit.

We have sweet tooths in my family, and dessert is a bone of contention, especially when it includes chocolate.

We have a rule: Unless there is a chocolate dessert so out of this world that we can’t live without it, we share one for the table. Otherwise, we order sorbet or fruit or dispense with dessert altogether. Choose your calories wisely.

Alcohol can be difficult for some, with all the parties and functions surrounding the holiday. I’ll never say abstinence is the only option, but be aware that alcohol increases the appetite and sweeter cocktails go down like fruit punch.

Nurse your drinks. Try one glass of water or club soda for every alcoholic beverage. You’ll not only drink less, but you may just ward off the dreaded hangover.

Getting delayed in airports is a drag — but being hungry in an airport adds salt to the wound. Trying to find something healthy to eat is a mission. Some airports are getting better at offering more and better food options, but not all of them. Be prepared for the worst.

Bring a few healthy snacks, such as whole fruits, whole-grain crackers with peanut butter, nuts, low-salt pretzels, and individual packets of oatmeal. (You can always get hot water — even on the plane). These are easy to pack and will save the day.

Most important, enjoy the holidays. A few high-calorie meals do not mean you’re off the wagon. Have no guilt. Get right back on track the next day — don’t convince yourself that you can wait till Monday if it’s only Wednesday.

I can promise you this: If you start listening to your body throughout the holidays and follow some of the tips outlined above, it will become habitual. Stay committed.

Small changes make very big differences over time. This might just be the opportunity to resolve to lose weight in this new year.

Lemon-ginger ricotta cheesecake

FOR THE CRUST:

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (8 to 10 whole crackers ground in a food processor)

2/3 cup Grape Nuts or other crunchy cereal

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons water

Spray oil

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, Grape Nuts, oil, and water in a food processor and process until crumbly.

Press this mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch nonstick springform pan sprayed with oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR THE FILLING:

3 cups low- or no-fat ricotta cheese

3/4 cup yogurt cheese

½ cup no-fat sour cream

2 eggs

4 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons candied ginger

Combine the ricotta, yogurt cheese, sour cream, eggs, egg whites, sugar, zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and candied ginger in a mixer or mixing bowl, and beat or whisk until smooth.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan. Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour, or until the filling is almost set: it should jiggle just slightly when the pan is shaken.

Transfer the cheesecake to a cake rack and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. Cut into wedges and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Per serving (based on 10 servings): 338 calories, 15 grams protein, 11 grams fat, 45 grams carbohydrates, 276 milligrams sodium, 68 milligrams cholesterol.

Betsy Klein is a dietician in Miami. To contact her, go to www.betsykleinrd.com.

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