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5 simple steps to avoid holiday food temptations...

Posted Sep 17 2008 12:36am

Dr. Hyman is on vacation, so today's blog is a guest editorial prepared especially for The UltraMetabolism Blog subscribers by the health editors of

There's no doubt about it. Christmas, Hanukah, New Year's Eve and the other holidays that occur during this season are a time for family bonding, reflection, and fun.

But when you're committed to health and fitness, this can also be a frustrating time of the year.

That's because you can find yourself surrounded by bad food choices.

And the temptation to eat these foods -- and lots of them -- feels like it's everywhere, from office holiday parties to gatherings with family and friends.

If you've ever overindulged during the holidays, you're probably all too familiar with the results.

Most of us slightly overestimate how much we gain during this season.

However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that more than half of all the pounds we gain during the year are packed on during the holidays!

Worse, most of us don't lose those pounds during the New Year.

So what's the good news?

There are some straightforward and simple ways you can avoid eating the wrong foods..

Here are some tips to stay healthy this season -- and all yearlong:

==>  Keep the Upper Hand at Parties and Social Events

Talk about peer pressure!

Research shows that people tend to eat more when they're with others compared to when they're alone.

In fact, a collection of studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 1997 found people reported eating up to 44 percent more when they were with other people than when they ate alone.

How can this be?

Well, groups of people tend to spread their eating time over longer periods of time than do solo diners -- and that extra time means time to consume more food.

This is especially true in the case of holiday get-togethers and parties that can last several hours or longer.

Want to avoid this problem?

You'll need to gain control of the situation.

Aside from watching your portion sizes and choosing healthy foods, consider these two steps.

1) Prepare one or several of the dishes offered at the social gathering, so you know you'll have healthy options.

This works best if you're throwing the party, but even if you're a guest, your host will certainly appreciate the gesture if you bring a dish or two with you.

Need some inspiration? How about 55 healthy recipes perfect for parties ... at no-cost to you.

For healthy and delicious party recipes, visit the website below and grab your free copy of "55 All-Time Favorite Healthy Party & Get-Together Recipes" e-Book:


2) Avoid temptation with a full stomach.

Eat a healthy, filling meal before attending a holiday event. You won't be hungry -- and will be a lot less likely to sample unhealthy treats.
==>  Be Vigilant When Eating Out at Restaurants

If you've read Dr. Hyman's book UltraMetabolism, you know that the types of calories you consume are more important than the amount of calories when it comes to health.

Where are you likely to find more of those "bad" calories?

Away from home!

In fact, half of all calories in the US are now consumed in restaurants.

And restaurant meals tend to be significantly higher in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and lower in fiber and calcium than home-cooked meals, according to a study published in the journal Food Review.

Now consider the results of another study published in The Western Journal of Nursing Research, which revealed about 30 percent of all binge-eating occurs in restaurants.

And so many holiday gatherings now take place in restaurants.

You've got a recipe for disaster!

What can you do?

One of the best strategies is to eat something healthy shortly before you go to the restaurant. This way, you won't have an appetite to make the wrong choices or overindulge.

Here are some other strategies for eating healthy away from home:

1) Make a rule to skip the appetizers and dessert, where loads of bad calories are often found. If you crave those extras, choose healthy items, like vegetable platters and fresh berries.

2) Drink water or unsweetened tea instead of soft drinks or alcoholic beverages.

3) Avoid fried items on the menu; look for items that are baked, grilled, broiled, poached, or steamed.

4) Remember that cream-based soups are higher in fat and calories than other soups.

5) Order salad dressings and other sauces on the side so you can control how much of them you use.

6) Don't be afraid to tell the wait staff how you want your meal prepared. The finer the restaurant, the more apt and capable they should be at accommodating your request.

==>  Avoid Stressful Holiday Situations, Especially Where Food is Available

Stress can make you heavier.

As Dr. Hyman explains in Chapter 10 of UltraMetabolism, stress is a key contributor to overweight and obesity.

There are multiple reasons for this. Stress increases cortisol levels and decreases leptin sensitivity, leading to increased hunger -- and overeating.

We don't need to tell you that the holidays can be an incredibly stressful time of year. 

From rushed holiday shopping trips among throngs of people to having to see certain relatives you'd prefer to avoid, stress and the holiday season unfortunately go hand in hand.

You can't avoid stress -- but you can manage it.

The key is to identify and avoid potential stress-triggers in advance, so you can properly plan how to handle them.

If you know that you're going to have to do some last-minute shopping, eat a healthy meal just before you go so you don't get hungry and end up tempted by fast food in the mall.

If you know that visiting your in-laws will stress you out, plan the visit during the hours you typically don't eat lunch or dinner so you're not driven to overeat during a meal.

Are you going to be attending a potentially stressful family event where you know a meal will be served?

Stay in control by bringing several of your own healthy dishes to eat and share instead of the unhealthy offerings of others.

==>  Don't Eat (or At Least Control Your Eating) When Watching TV

Watching the tube lends itself to mindless munching.

Many studies have shown a direct link between time spent watching television and increased weight.

Likewise, a recent study published in the journal Obesity showed a direct correlation between watching less television and losing more weight!

That can be tough during the holidays, when leisure time can mean crashing on the couch, watching everything from football games to parades to "Miracle on 34th Street."

The solution is simple.

Make a rule to not watch TV and eat at the same time.

If that's too unrealistic, try to surround yourself only with healthy snacks -- such as those featured in the no-cost 55 Healthy Recipe e-Book featured below.

==> Avoid Temptation in the First Place

Unhealthy foods can have powerful effects not just on your taste buds but on your brain.

In fact, tasty, unhealthy treats activate the same pleasure centers in your brain that are activated by drugs, alcohol, cigarettes -- and even buying shoes!

So the smartest thing you can do is avoid putting yourself in a tempting situation in the first place.

This doesn't mean you should shun holiday parties and social gatherings, which is why we provided advice for those situations above.

Instead, it means that you should:

1) Avoid buying unhealthy "goodies."

This is especially true during the holidays, when the food marketers are working extra hard to bamboozle their holiday-themed temptations into your cart.

(For an excellent article on how grocery stores use sophisticated marketing tactics to get you to buy more stuff, most of it unhealthy, see How Stores are Secretly Using Barry Manilow to Rob You

2) Avoid setting the temptations out around your home or office.

Research shows that people eat more snacks when they're close at hand.

In fact, a Cornell University study found that women ate more than twice as many Hershey's Kisses when the candies were stored in clear containers on their desks than when they were kept in opaque containers in the same place.

The women ate even fewer candies when they were kept six feet away.

And the researchers said that the women consistently underestimated how much candy they ate from their desks -- but OVERestimated how much they ate when it was farther away.

The lesson here?

Keep temptation out of reach.

Maybe you can't stop your sister or aunt from setting out bowls of potato chips and M&Ms, but you certainly can avoid it in domains where you hold sway.

Whether it's your home, office, or you're hosting a holiday party for hundreds, out of sight means out of mind -- great advice when it comes to tempting foods!

3) Surround yourself with healthy foods.

This means in everyday situations and holidays. Every time you eat meal and every time you snack is an opportunity for healthy eating.

Happy Holidays -- and healthy eating -- from the editorial team at!

**  Dr. Hyman will be back next week with another important blog.

Now we'd like to hear from you...

Do you typically gain weight during the holidays? If not, do you make a conscious effort to eat healthy?

Have you followed any of these tips? How have they worked for you?

What tips can you share for staying healthy during the holidays?

Please let us know your thoughts by clicking on the Add a Comment button below and posting your thoughts.

To your good health,

The health editors of, for Mark Hyman, M.D.

P.S. Be sure to get your free e-Book, "55 All-Time Favorite Healthy Party & Get-Together Recipes," right now by going to the website below:



American Institute for Cancer Research

Chiva, M. (1997). Cultural aspects of meals and meal frequency. British Journal of Nutrition, 77(1), S21-S28.

Cornell University: The 'temptation factor' -- candy on the desk is candy in the mouth

Food Review: Nutritional quality of foods at and away from home.

Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O'Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861-7.

Obesity: Television Viewing and Long-Term Weight Maintenance

The Western Journal of Nursing Research


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