Over the holidays, rich foods and desserts can cause some of us to put on a few extra pounds. Michael B. Zemel, the chief science officer at NuSirt Sciences, answered a few questions about how you can combat gaining weight over the holidays while still enjoying your favorite foods.
What are some tips you have for holiday parties?
Zemel, a professor emeritus in nutrition at the University of Tennessee, said oftentimes, people figure diet and exercise are a lost cause during the holiday season.
“They figure they're all in until the holidays are over, instead of saying, ‘You know what? There are a few things I can do to make sure that I don't really gain six pounds over the holidays.'”
Family, friends and offices will throw a variety of parties this month. It's important to not show up to these parties starving, Zemel said.
Once you're at the party, engage in conversation, and when you do, don't linger around the food while you're talking. It's too tempting to snack and eat, and the reality is, it's hard to keep track of what you eat while periodically snacking.
“And it's also hard to say, ‘Well you know what? I'm just going to eat the celery slices,'” Zemel said.
What's important to keep in mind about portion control?
While at your family or friend's holiday dinner, think about the benefits of what you're putting on your plate. Proteins and cheeses are high in protein and will fill you up faster, Zemel said. Eating those first could mean you will be less likely to eat too many high-calorie foods.
“You can scan the table and figure out what that one special thing that you'd really like to have is, and go ahead and enjoy it, and then fill up the rest of your plate or the rest of your return trips with things that are a little more modest, things that are little lower in calories,” Zemel said.
This isn't to say you can't enjoy the things you love.
“Personally, I think if you want to have a piece of pie, you ought to have it, but maybe you ought to have a look at what size you have,” Zemel said.
What about the egg nog?
Not only should you keep in mind the amount of food you're eating, Zemel said. It's also important to keep in mind that drinks can be high-calorie, too.
Holiday drinks, regardless of whether they're alcoholic, tend to be calorically rich, Zemel said.
“If you're going to have a drink, I'd rather see people stick to something like a glass of wine, but not as many of the fancy drinks,” Zemel said. “It's a question of indulging but not losing yourself in the indulgence.”
What is the long-term impact of obesity?
It's important to be mindful of your health, regardless of what time of year it is.
Not all fat is bad, though, Zemel said. The fat in your body is a highly active endocrine organ that produces a range of hormones, he said. When your fat cells are small and healthy, the hormones they produce help keep you healthy, balance your appetite and regulate your insulin.
“But when your fat cells get overfilled, they start sending out different messages, really bad messages,” Zemel said. “They start sending out compounds that lead to inflammation all over the body that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even a number of kinds of cancers.”
If you're looking ahead at New Year's resolutions and have 30, 50 or 90 pounds to lose, Zemel recommends setting small goals. Research shows people who set small goals for weight loss are more likely to be successful.
And losing that initial five to 10 pounds can bring substantial health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and risk of diabetes, he said.
“Will you get more benefit from losing all the weight you would like to lose? Of course,” Zemel said.