Cake on a scale
There's a reason it's called a 'pound' cake! Mindful eating and daily physical activity during the holiday season can give you a jump on those New Year's resolutions. Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we’ve entered what Linda Gigliotti likes to call the “national eating season,” during which many people celebrate at holiday buffets and dinner tables with gluttonous glee.

As director of UC Irvine’s Weight Management Program, Gigliotti often sees the end results of this overindulgence. But the new year doesn’t have to dawn with new pounds, she says, especially if you can make wise food and beverage choices without sacrificing good cheer.

First, Gigliotti says, you should establish a calorie budget — the number of calories you can consume per day and maintain (or reduce) your current weight. Then decide daily how to allocate this caloric currency.

You could eat rich turkey stuffing, for example, but compensate by avoiding rolls and mashed potatoes – or have dessert but forego gravy and salad dressing.

Exercise puts additional calories into your account, giving you more to spend on food and beverage choices.

“Anything you can do to move your body through space counts,” Gigliotti says. “So take a brisk walk around the mall before shopping. Stroll through the neighborhood with family and friends to look at decorations – make it part of your holiday celebration.”

“Plan some form of physical activity every day,” she adds. “Not only does it burn calories, but – perhaps more importantly – it also helps you manage stress, which is often a trigger for overeating.”

Because parties are rife with temptation, Gigliotti offers some tips on negotiating the holiday circuit without busting your calorie budget:

  • Arrive satisfied. Fill up on high-fiber, high-volume foods like vegetables or fruits beforehand. Consider bringing a low-calorie, low-fat dish to the event, such as a vegetable tray. “But don’t dip those veggies in dressing,” Gigliotti warns. “You can pile up the calories that way while thinking you’re doing well.”
  • Move away from the buffet. People tend to congregate around food, but after serving yourself, go to the other side of the room. “Circulate. Focus on the people, not the food,” she says. “Another trick is to hold your drink with your right hand if you’re right-handed. It makes grabbing food a bit more difficult.”
  • Do a napkin test. Check the napkin under your appetizer for grease. “If the spot is large, you might want to select something different next time,” Gigliotti says.
  • Drink slim. Besides containing empty calories, alcoholic beverages can weaken your resolve to limit eating. “Save the bubbly till midnight,” she says. “A good strategy is to keep a sugar-free, low-calorie drink in your hand and have two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage you imbibe.”

“If you do overeat, don’t get discouraged,” Gigliotti adds. “Compensate by reducing your caloric intake for a few days to balance those extra calories. Remember the big picture: Celebrations are not all about food. They’re about sharing special times with friends and family.”