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This holiday season, load up on healthy-eating habits

Eat before a party so you won't arrive craving those high-calorie, high-fat appetizers and finger foods.
Eat before a party so you won't arrive craving those high-calorie, high-fat appetizers and finger foods. Getty Images

By now, most of us think we’ve heard it all when it comes to healthy eating habits, diet strategies and all the things we ought to be doing (or not doing).

But there are plenty of reading-between-the-lines tips that might help us get a firmer footing on the healthy-behavior bandwagon — just in time for the holidays and a traditional season of overindulgence.

Here’s a list of ideas covering some of our shopping, dining and eating habits that may help increase success when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

1. Buy fruits and veggies at the “right” time: In-season produce will be the least expensive, will give you a good variety in your diet throughout the year, and, all in all, will be your best bargains in terms of cost per nutrient. See http://healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/features-month/whats-season.

Most people miss the physical cues signaling that they have eaten enough. Try eating whatever you want, but stopping once you are full.

2. Eat all your meals: Skipping meals during the day will slow your metabolism and result in overeating in the evening, both of which lead to weight gain.

3. Eat only when you are hungry: Learn to distinguish being hungry from feeling tired, bored, depressed, stressed, thirsty, etc. If you are not sure that you are actually hungry, involve yourself in another task or activity.

If you are still hungry when you’ve finished that other activity, have a mini-meal.

4. Learn your “full” potential: Most people miss the physical cues signaling that they have eaten enough. Try eating whatever you want, but stopping once you are full. How will you know you’re full? Think about how hungry you really are BEFORE you eat.

Also, try waiting 15 to 20 minutes after a meal before requesting seconds or dessert. By delaying, you may find that your appetite for a second helping has decreased.

5. Going to a party? Eat ahead of time. I know plenty of people who starve themselves before going to a party so they can have “room” for all the great food. Then they arrive at the party — stomachs rumbling — and make a beeline for the all those high-calorie, high-fat appetizers and finger foods, easily eating more than a day’s worth of calories.

6. Eat at an earlier or later time: Restaurants will be more open to taking special orders if you eat during off-peak dining hours.

The receptors in your stomach take 20 minutes to tell your brain that you are full, so eat slowly.

7. Avoid price-fixed menus: These encourage you to overeat high-calorie foods.

8. Hang up photographs and images of healthy foods: Try hanging images of fruits and vegetables in your kitchen, and change them often. Experts say that exposure is key to getting someone to recognize a brand and encourage usage. The same goes for healthy eating.

9. Drink water before your meal: Before you sit down to eat, drink a full glass (8 ounces) of water. This will help you to feel full, eat less, and consume fewer calories at that meal.

10. Put down your fork: Putting down your fork after each bite will help you eat more slowly. The receptors in your stomach take 20 minutes to tell your brain that you are full (i.e., you are actually “full” 20 minutes before you realize it), so eating slowly (and giving your brain time to catch up) will help you to decrease the amount of food consumed at each meal.

11. Just stop eating: If you are full STOP eating. Avoid thinking “I paid for it” or “I took the time to cook it, so I should eat it all.”

Save the leftovers for lunch the next day. That way you won’t have to cook or pack a lunch, and you’ll save money, too.

12. Eat only in the kitchen or dining room: Do not eat anywhere but the kitchen or dining room table.

This will help prevent you from munching on high-calorie, high-fat junk foods while watching television and subconsciously grazing while doing activities around the house. When you have finished your meal, leave the kitchen.

13. “Close” the kitchen: To avoid late-night munching, close down the kitchen after dinner. Clean up and turn off the lights. Consider the kitchen officially closed until morning.

14. Make a grocery list: Always shop with a list and buy only the foods on your list. Do not buy foods just because they are on sale unless they are on your list.

15: Avoid an “all or nothing” attitude: (For instance, a common one goes like this: “I already messed up and ate some cookies, so I might as well just eat 10 more.”) Remember that energy (calorie) intake is cumulative. The more excess energy you consume, the more weight you will gain. If you stop as soon as you realize you have eaten too much, you will minimize the impact on your present weight.

16. Reduce sugar in recipes and use spices: You can cut the sugar in most recipes by one-third without compromising the taste of the finished product. In fact, you probably won’t even notice the difference.

Check out recipe sites such as eatingwell.com (www.eatingwell.com), cookinglight.com (www.cookinglight.com) and allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com).

Also, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, anise and mint can add a sweet taste to foods without adding sugar or calories.

17. You don’t have to be perfect: You don’t have to be perfect to lose weight. Perfectionists may have follow-through, but, at the same time, they might set unrealistic standards that can never be met.

If you have only 10 minutes to exercise, that’s fine; just do the 10 minutes. A perfectionist might use this as an excuse to do nothing: “If I can’t do a full hour, it’s not worth it.” But that’s just another way of making an “all or nothing” mistake.

18. Forgive your slip-ups: Remember that even though we all encounter “slip prone” situations and temptations, goal-planning helps us handle them.

19. Don’t make drastic changes: Making drastic or highly restrictive changes in your eating habits may help you to lose weight in the short run, but those restrictions will be hard to live with permanently.

20. Beware “problem partners”: You need to keep all unhealthy foods out of the house, which means you may need a little bit of help if your partner keeps bringing them home. Try to say something before that happens instead of complaining (or overeating) after the fact.

Charles Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.

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