Avoid Holiday Weight Gain. But If Diets Don't Work, What Does?

By Marilynn Preston

November 20, 2018 5 min read

My tail feathers got all twisted when I read that the average American gains 27 pounds between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Eve.

OK, I'm pulling your leg. The statistic's more like 4 to 7 pounds, but even that's depressing — enough extra poundage to make your jeans feel like a blood-pressure cuff.

Take heart! It doesn't have to be that way. We humans have choices. Dogs, cats and children pretty much have to eat whatever's piled in front of them, but we grown-ups are free to choose, free to make small meaningful changes in our life that lessen our risk of obesity and boost our well-being.

I'm a big fan of the Nutrition Action newsletter. In a recent issue, Caitlin Dow summed up important new research about overeating in an article called "How To Eat Less: What Works, What Doesn't." It's filled with surprises and helpful suggestions:

—SHATTERING THE SMALL PLATE MYTH. Remember when obesity experts were telling us that eating on small plates helped you eat smaller portions? Not so fast.

"Focusing on plate size is a diversion," says Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional science at Pennsylvania State University. She's looked at the existing research, and done her own, and concludes that people do not eat less when they use a smaller plate. Sorry.

"I'm particularly fond of the buffet experiment," she says. "If we gave people smaller plates, they just went back to the buffet more times."

Eating off a small plate might be helpful if it's a visual reminder for you to eat less, but it won't stop you from overeating. In fact, she says, people who only have a small plate to eat off are likely to leave off the foods they don't really like, which are often vegetables. Much more important is to learn to love your veggies.

—CHOOSE LOW-DENSITY FOODS. It's not the size of the plate. It's what you put on the plate that really matters. Duh.

"Half the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables that have a low calorie density," says Rolls.

Low-calorie-density foods are what you might expect: They are whole, unprocessed foods high in water and fiber. These foods fill you up, but they don't pack in nearly as many calories per bite as high-calorie-density foods, such as pies, cakes, cookies and candy. Knowing this is one thing; acting on it is up to you.

—DON'T FORCE BREAKFAST. We've been hearing this for years: If you want to control your weight, eat a healthy breakfast. It jump-starts your metabolism and keeps you from eating everything but the kitchen sink at lunch. (Don't you wonder how that expression got started?)

While research tells us that people who eat breakfast do tend to weigh less than people who skip it, it's not necessarily true that skipping breakfast causes weight gain.

And the point is? If you feel better skipping breakfast, don't force-feed yourself all those extra calories first thing in the morning. Listen to your body. And don't think you're doomed to overeating at lunch. It may or may not happen. You're in charge.

—BE MINDFUL ABOUT EATING. In my opinion, this strategy has the greatest promise of all when it comes to lifetime weight control, because as your mind shifts, so will the needle on your scale.

It's simple and profound at the same time: Learn to tune in to your own body's wisdom when it comes to eating. Your body wants to be healthy and eat well. If you listen to it and explore various options, you'll figure out how to bring your body back to balance. That's when the drama over dieting ends and you're free to move on to piano lessons or planting an herb garden.

"Mindful eating means that you tune in to hunger signals so you only eat when you're hungry and stop eating when you're satisfied," says Drexel University psychology professor Evan Forman.

"It also teaches people to slow down and to not eat out of boredom or in an automatic, mindless way."

That level of body awareness may sound impossible to you, but know this: It isn't.

That's why mindfulness training is booming. It's not 100 percent effective, but nothing is. Well, that's not true, either. Downsizing your portions — sharing an entree, eating starters — always works!


"Eating crappy food isn't a reward — it's a punishment." —Drew Carey

Marilynn Preston is the author of "Energy Express," America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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