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Surviving the Food Carnival: Eating Through the Holidays

Halloween has come and gone, which has always served as my reminder that the holidays are about to kickoff, or, let the "Food Carnival" begin! Following Halloween, depending on where in the world you live, time of the year, or what religion you may practice, celebrations begin. Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, Diwali, Chanukah, Al-Hijra, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year's Eve to name a few are celebrated and most involve food. Some, more than others.

Then January arrives and most of us wonder how we gained four pounds and in the United States, the range is typically five to 10 pounds. We forget, this did not happen overnight, but over one to two months and we typically do not notice, a quarter pound gain here, a pound two weeks later, but suddenly, it is five pounds, not one. So how do we get to January weighing what we weighed in October and not enjoy the holidays and the Food Carnival?

We are going to look at 10 things which will help you maintain or minimize your Food Carnival weight gain, but will still let you enjoy your favorite beverages, foods, and deserts of the holiday season.  

  1. Eat when you normally eat. That is, don't skip lunch or your afternoon snack because you are going to a party that evening. By skipping those meals you may think you are saving calories for the evening, but typically, by the time you get to the party, you are so hungry you actually eat more and consume more calories than you would have.
  2. Maintain as much consistency in your workout program as possible. By doing so, you may not lose weight during the holidays, but it may be the key to keep from gaining it. Even if you have to drop one or two workouts one or more weeks, get in for your other workouts. It might not prevent you from gaining weight, but it may help to minimize how much you gain. Instead of five pounds, you might gain only two. That is three less pounds to lose, and if you are able to lose half a pound a week for example, you will be back to your starting weight six weeks sooner.
  3. Do not start a new diet this time of year. Studies suggest that starting a new diet during the holidays, more times than not, fail. It is better to follow the suggestions in this article and others on eating during the holidays. Then come the first of the year, kick-off the New Year with a new diet and workout program.
  4. Eat a small meal before you leave for the party. You will still have room for the great food, beverages, and deserts at the party, but you will not feel so hungry that you over eat.
  5. Drink water when you first arrive at the party. First, water will give you a full feeling which will typically lead you to eating less. Second, if you are having festival holiday drinks, wine, or beer at the party, it will help to keep you hydrated.
  6. Remember that alcohol stimulates the appetite and decreases self-control which can lead to over-eating. By refraining from or limiting the number of alcoholic beverages consumed, you will not only save the calories from the beverage, but potentially, additional calories from the food you do not eat.
  7. When you first start eating at the party, go for the healthy zone that is vegetables and fruit which do not have fat, and yes, no smothering in dip. Both will also provide fiber which will make you feel full. Once again this may lead you to eating less than you normally would.  
  8. Look for low-fat and lean meats. That is, go for green beans or other vegetables instead of the apple salad smothered in whipped cream. Look for turkey or other lean meats instead of the little hot dogs smothered in BBQ sauce. Both can save you a few hundred calories in one evening.
  9. Yes, yes, I know number nine is tough. Yes, I do like to have fun and eat the sugary desserts as most people do especially cheesecake and eggnog, and not the low-fat eggnog. Yes, you can still enjoy the sweet desserts, fried and high-fat foods. One way to cut some calories is to take half a piece of cheesecake and half a piece of carrot cake instead of whole piece of each. Take half a scoop of the mashed potatoes and a teaspoon of gravy instead of two scoops of potatoes and then drowning them in enough gravy to fill a kiddie pool.  
  10. Lastly, once you get your food, move away from the buffet, food table, or kitchen. By moving away, you do not have the tendency to put a little more on your plate, then a little more. This is not saying do not go back and get seconds. What I am suggesting is when you do go back for seconds; you will select your food and once again, move away. The tendency to graze is decreased because you are not right next to the food. You may wait another 10 minutes or more to go back for seconds since you do not want to break away from the conversation you are having. Whereas, when you are next to the food table, it is easy to reach over and grab some more.

The above list provides some ideas for you to cut some calories and perhaps, maintain your weight or gain a little less this holiday season. Ideally, you would do all the above. Realistically, one, four, and 10 we can all do. Beyond those three, try picking two or three more for the week and then two or three different ones the week after. That way, you can feel which ones work the best for you, but still allow you to enjoy the holidays and survive the Food Carnival.

Next month, New Year, New You! We will look at how to eat to shed a few of the holiday pounds you may have put on. In January, Nicole Olson will rejoin me for a three month look at, "So Your Company Wants to Run a Marathon." We will start off with training in January, nutrition in February, and selecting the proper marathon in March.

Until next month, enjoy the Food Carnival, I am going too!

SCOTT TOMEK MA, EMT-P has been a paramedic for 25 years with 23 of those at Lakeview Hospital EMS in Stillwater, MN. He is a faculty member with the Century College Paramedic Program and wrote the curriculum for and served as the interim director of their public safety degree program. He is a frequent contributor to EMS World Magazine, a frequent presenter at EMS conferences in the Midwest and an educational consultant to fire and EMS services. View all of Scott's artices and podcasts hereHe can be reached at