Doctor and author Michelle May has carved out a career helping people control their appetites, so at holiday parties it’s inevitable that she takes somebody by surprise.
“People will say, ‘Hey, you’re eating chocolate,’ ” May said. “And I’ll say, ‘Of course.’ ”
May wrote the 2009 book “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat” (Greenleaf Book Group, $25), which was recently reissued in paperback.
She says the trick to avoiding overeating during the holidays is to get away from what used to pass as good advice: Eat before the party, workout an extra hour to make up for overeating, avoid certain foods, etc.
Instead, May suggests you approach the holiday party season (and the rest of the year for that matter) with a hunger budget. Think of this as an expense account for your appetite.
“How much do you want to spend on appetizers or the entrée? Do you want to save some room for dessert?” she said. “Go through this process mentally to avoid eating too much food and feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening.”
Don’t blow your budget on foods you don’t enjoy (I’m talking about you, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole) or by consuming too much of things that taste great (sorry, egg nog).
I recently asked May to share a few tips for enjoying the holiday party scene without needing to let out your belt. Here are 10 of her suggestions:
1. Don’t punish yourself
May says using extra exercise to compensate for extra eating can make exercise feel like punishment. She recommends going for a walk after dinner to enjoy Christmas lights or taking a few laps around the mall as a fun way to burn calories.
“For most people, the gym is an intimidating place so they won’t spend extra time there,” May said. “In fact, they’ll probably just say, ‘Forget it.’”
Although, she says, if you love working out go ahead and workout a little longer.
2. Pay attention
Chatting away with friends and family at parties is a good way to mindlessly stuff your face. Be diligent about paying attention to how your body feels and stop eating when you are full.
3. Don’t eat before you go
May says the old strategy of “eating before you go” to a party to help fight temptations is “absurd.” Allow yourself to enjoy the season.
“You want to be hungry enough to enjoy your favorites,” May said. “Pace your eating prior to the event so you’ll be hungry but not famished at mealtime.”
4. Keep your distance
Are you one of those people who socialize in the kitchen or within arms reach of the cheese plate? Stop.
Move your conversation away from the food so you are less likely to eat just because it’s easy and everybody else is doing it.
Also when you feel full, remove your plate from the table or cover it with a napkin.
5. What’s really special
Almost every holiday party will tempt you with a buffet. Have a strategy when you take on the gauntlet.
May suggests surveying all the food first and choose the ones you want most.
If you are going to indulge pick something that you truly only get to eat during the holidays (You can eat cheese crackers, and chips and dip anytime).
And treat the special food with the attention it deserves.
“Eat mindfully by reducing distractions and sitting down to eat – even if it’s just a cookie,” May said.
6. Be a food snob
May says you can solve a number of overeating issues by being a food snob.
First, she says, skip the store-bought snacks like prepackaged cookies and crackers.
“How much less would you eat if you only ate foods that tasted fabulous?” May said.
And don’t inhale your food. Also, spend time appreciating the appearance and aroma of your food. May says by savoring each bite you will eat slower, eat less and enjoy it more.
If you don’t like the food, don’t finish it. Your mom’s not there forcing you to clean your plate. (And if she is, maybe it’s time for a little talk.)
“There is so much great food out there,” May said. “It’s a great time of year to be as picky as possible.”
7. “No thanks”
Just because grandma makes you deep-fried cheesecake every Christmas doesn’t mean you have to eat it. May says too many people overeat because they feel obligated for various reasons (you paid for it, somebody made it for you, it’s on your plate, etc.).
A polite “No, thanks” almost always works, May said, but an even friendlier way to get off the hook might be to ask for the recipe or a small portion to take home.
8. Watch the emotions
Few times are as stressful as the holidays. Don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself, “I deserve a seventh cookie or the entire starboard side of the gravy boat.”
Make time to exercise to help ward off stress and the temptation to eat poorly. And make sure you take time to sleep, May said.
“It’s important that you take care of yourself,” May said. “You don’t have to go to every party. Ask yourself if these are people you really want to hang out with. Your resources are limited. It’s when you are feeling drained that it becomes easy to reach for that extra food or alcohol.”
9. Split entrees
May says she and her husband “co-order and co-eat” at restaurants.
“It’s no bargain to get twice as much food as you need,” May said. “Judge your value based on quality instead of quantity.”
So many of us were programmed as kids to clean our plates and we pay the price as adults, with expanding waistlines and feeling miserable after eating too much.
“If you feel bad at the end, you’ve ruined an amazing meal,” May said.
10. How do I want to feel?
May says there is a question you should constantly ask yourself when you choose what and how much you eat.
“Before you cook, go to a party, open the fridge or whatever, you should be asking yourself, ‘How do I want to feel?’ ” May said. “The choices you make will determine how you feel later.”
p>Craig Hill’s fitness column runs Sundays. Submit questions and comments firstname.lastname@example.org