December 15, 2008 / 4:54 PM / 10 years ago

Have your cake -- and eat it, too

TORONTO (Reuters) - The holiday season is here and for those who overindulge, the guilt trips are sure to follow. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right strategy, you most certainly can have your cake and eat it, too.

A pastry chief fills Christmas cakes known as "rosco de reyes" with whipped cream in a pastry factory in Burgos, northern Spain January 5, 2008. REUTERS/Felix Ordonez

Andy Bellatti, a nutrition graduate student at New York University, has some tips for surviving the eating season with your waistline in tact. First, remember that much of it is in your head.

Stop thinking of the holiday season as being five or six weeks long, said Bellatti, who blogs about diet and nutrition at Small Bites. Instead, focus on specific days, like Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. “If you already have it in your mind that those are the days when things are going to be off course,” he said, “it’s going to be a lot easier.”

At the same time, an attitude of deprivation could set you up for failure. “If you know you like pumpkin pie why would you ever tell yourself you’re not going to have any?” he asked.

And convincing yourself that you won’t make a single “bad” choice during the holidays is self-sabotaging, he added: “It’s very easy to say that when you don’t have any food in front of you. But when you’re there, and you see other people eating it and they’re savoring it and telling you how good it is, it gets very hard.”

Go ahead and have that pumpkin pie but go back to your regular eating patterns the next day. “There’s too much of this thinking that ‘Well, I’ve already gone overboard — I might as well keep going.’ That’s problematic,” he said.

Another trap “over-indulgers” fall into is the emotional. Bellatti said you should be aware of why you are eating something. “Be aware of your mind state, and think as you’re eating, ‘Am I eating this because I’m enjoying it, or am I eating it because I want to yell at my sister who gets on my nerves?’” If you know you tend to eat or drink due to boredom or stress, try stationing yourself somewhere other than beside the bar or the food table, he suggested - get what you want, and then take your plate or glass and go to another part of the room.

Instead of trying to “save up” your calories during the day by avoiding food before an event, have a small filling snack, one with some fiber and protein, before going out; Bellatti suggested nuts, cereal or oatmeal. If you’re not starving when you arrive, he explained, you’ll have better control when you do hit the food table. Besides, it’s never a good idea to drink on an empty stomach.

Alcohol can be a major source of empty calories during the holidays, particularly if drinking also leads you to overeat. The drinks themselves are generally not filling, and can have more calories than one might expect - a six-ounce glass of white wine has 120 calories, a bottle of beer has 150 calories, and cocktails can have anywhere from 125 calories in a Bloody Mary to 475 calories in a Rum Eggnog. Bellatti suggested alternating drinks with water or seltzer to cut down on your intake.

If you’re hosting a holiday event, try to be realistic about how much food you really need for the number of guests you have, Bellatti advised. “For some reason people think that a Christmas dinner should be for a battalion, and they end up making so much food.” At one holiday dinner he attended there were seven pies for the eight guests.

If you do have snacks still around at the end of the party, try sending some home with your guests, he said, particularly if you know the foods are problematic for you. And remember that there will inevitably be some treats left for tomorrow, which means you don’t have to eat them all at once.

Most of all, Bellatti said, it’s important not to get too caught up in the details. If your diet is good on the whole, a few treats - whether during the holidays or the rest of the year - are okay, and may even help you stay on track. “As long as your overall diet patterns are fine and healthy,” he said, “having a donut on Monday and Friday is not going to be the end of you.”

What are your favorite holiday treats, and how to enjoy them in moderation? Tell us about it:

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