By Tara Marie Segundo, M.A.
The holidays are upon us. Before you've had time to polish off your kids' Halloween candy, Christmas displays appear. Your officemates fill the kitchen with delicacies, and the workweek becomes a five-day food frenzy. If you've wondered if it's possible to enjoy the festivities without gaining weight and eat well at the same time, the answer is yes. Try these tips for conscious eating the next time you're confronted with temptation and you'll find yourself eating better and feeling better.
Don't be a two-fisted eater. Conscious eating means eliminating distractions and noticing how much food you're consuming. A perfect way to avoid shoveling in calorie-laden appetizers with both hands is to hold a bottle of water or a low-cal beverage in one. With only one hand reaching for food, you'll naturally slow down. Be sure to chew, talk, and maybe keep one hand free to wave at your friends across the room.
Drink consciously when consuming alcohol. Salty snacks make you thirsty, and if you're drinking alcohol, you'll find yourself drinking too much, too fast. This equals loads of empty calories. If you do drink alcohol, drink one full glass of sparkling water between imbibing in the fun stuff! The point is to quench your thirst but limit alcohol consumption and, hence, empty calories.
Never go to a party famished. It's a mistake to starve all day before an evening affair. It seems that you're saving calories for later, but really you're setting yourself up for a binge. When you're hungry and have low blood sugar, you're apt to reach for high-sugar, high-calorie foods. Also, you may arrive at the party and realize that there are no healthy options, so you'll be stuck eating foods that you otherwise wouldn't have chosen.
Check your emotions at the door. Many of us "eat" our emotions. We eat when we're angry; we eat when we're sad; we eat when we're frustrated; we eat when we're mad. While this may sound like a page out of a Dr. Seuss book, it's a true struggle for some of us. If you inhale food rather than eat it, or if you notice that you're not enjoying your food, you're likely using food to assuage uncomfortable emotions. The key to stopping this destructive practice begins with recognizing that you're doing it. Learn to deal directly with your feelings before surrounding yourself with a smorgasbord of tempting treats.
Move away from the food once you've filled your plate. We eat with our eyes, not our bellies. Back away from the buffet after you've filled a plate, and go to the other side of the room to mix and mingle. You'll be more tempted to eat if food is within an arm's reach. Focus on your friends and good conversation rather than on the chips and dip. This way, you're consciously choosing fellowship and fun.
Use smaller plates and utensils to satisfy your eyes and slow your pace. Instead of an entrée-sized plate, grab an appetizer dish and fill it to the brim. Psychologically, when you have a full plate you feel more satisfied. Using smaller utensils and smaller plates will slow your pace and trick your mind into believing that you're getting plenty of food.
Eat foods in a specific order. The key to conscious eating is to sample the delicious foods of the season while building your main course around healthier choices. Fill up on raw veggies and salads (watch for hidden calories in dressings and dips) before eating foods that pack more calories per morsel. You'll eat more when you're hungry, so save the calorie-dense treats until after you've blunted your appetite with fiber-rich, low-calorie foods. Think of it this way: veggies first, protein second, starchy carbs third, and sugar last. If you eat in this order, you may find yourself filled up on veggies and protein and never make it to the starchy carbs!
Exercise the day of the party. It's human nature: you treat yourself better when you feel better. If you go to a party feeling gorgeous, fit, and on top of your game, you won't want to ruin the feeling by over-indulging. Pre-party, get some exercise, eat a healthy meal, and put on a sleek outfit. All eyes will be on you, and overeating will be the last thing on your mind.
Wear an outfit with a belt or fitted waistband. Attending a festive affair in a moo-moo or a roomy shirt is a recipe for disaster. Wearing snug clothing will alert you to when your stomach's full. Much of the eating that we do during the holidays is mindless, so let your clothes be a gentle reminder that you've consumed enough. It's easier to overeat when wearing stretchy pants, so tuck in your shirt, put on a belt, and flaunt your form!
Limit the number of tastes you enjoy. During the holidays, there are so many delicious choices: sweet, salty, savory, sour, and creamy. The more variety you offer your taste buds, the more you will want to eat. Select the indulgences you wish to enjoy and limit yourself to these few. You'll find yourself naturally eating less.
BONUS TIP: Eating consciously means being aware of the tastes, smells, and sensations of the food. By savoring each mouthful, you won't need to eat as much to feel satisfied. Chat and laugh between bites. Focus on what you're doing while you're eating, and you won't find yourself mindlessly downing plates of food that you don't even remember tasting. Comment on the food to a friend as a conscious reminder that you are tasting--and enjoying--your food.
The holidays are a time of celebration and fellowship. By putting these tips into practice, you can have fun, be sociable, treat yourself, and, best of all, feel great when you awaken on January 2nd.
Tara Marie Segundo, M.A., is a New York City-based fitness expert, personal trainer, motivational strategist, and radio talk show host with nearly 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She holds a Master's Degree from Columbia University in Applied Physiology and focuses on helping clients break free from destructive patterns so they can reach their physical and mental peak and lead healthy, happy lives. Visit her at www.TaraMarie.com and read her blog on Red Room.