Holiday eating by the numbers; good choices equal less weight gain

UAB wellness expert offers tips on cutting calorie corners while celebrating.

This holiday season, most families will have the traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie, without which it wouldn’t qualify as a holiday meal. The one thing that usually falls off the list of must-haves is sensibility, says one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert.

food_story“Many of us toss our typical eating plans and healthy-living strategies to enjoy the winter festivities and just expect to gain weight during the holiday season,” says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., a wellness coordinator and adjunct professor in the UAB Department of Human Studies.

But if you play the holiday season by the numbers, you can have your pie and eat it, too, Whitt says.

“The average adult consumes about 3,000 calories in one Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. This figure can easily increase to more than 4,500 calories when you account for eating the rest of the day,” Whitt says. 

To put this in perspective, the average adult female typically takes in about 2,000 calories a day, while men are eating about 2,500. Doubling up on the caloric intake for one day can be detrimental to your weight and your overall health.

“In order to lose one pound of fat, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than they consume,” Whitt explains. “In order for a 160-pound person to burn off the 3,000 calorie meal, they would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles.”

Yikes. No time for that kind of exercise in between watching the big game or hitting the sales to find that perfect gift? Whitt offers tips to drop that whopping one-meal calorie count down:

  • Remove turkey skin to deduct 50 calories
  • Switch from whole milk in mashed potatoes to fat free or skim — or consider using new potatoes instead, which have less sugar
  • Enjoy one less piece of bread: cornbread is about 200 calories a piece, and each dinner roll will cost you 80
  • Opt for a fresh dessert instead of a baked one: a single slice of pumpkin pie is packed with about 350 calories and Southern pecan pie has more than 500 calories. A fresh fruit sorbet: only about 100 calories

“I can’t stress enough how important portion control plays into the bottom line. If your portions are twice the size they should be, even if you don’t go for seconds, your caloric intake will be exceptionally high,” Whitt says.

  • Cranberry sauce is about 110 calories per quarter-cup serving — the size of a medium egg
  • Sweet potato casserole can be up to 620 calories per half-cup serving — the size of half a baseball
  • Mashed potatoes are about 237 calories per one cup serving — the size of a tennis ball

“You can practice give and take with your favorite holiday foods. If you love sweet potato casserole but aren’t interested in taking in that many calories, try just a spoonful to get a taste of it,” Whitt suggests.

Calorie pitfalls don’t just happen on Thanksgiving and Christmas, either. All those holiday parties that fall in between can be costly to your waistline. Whitt says downing a tall glass of water or eating a small piece of fruit before you hit the soiree is one way to keep from overeating once there.

“If you are asked to bring a dish to a holiday party, consider purchasing it instead of making it at home. This will also minimize the temptation to make extra calorie-laden dishes for you and your family,” Whitt says.

Other tips include throwing in a 20-30 minute cardiovascular workout when you are expecting to eat a little more and parking farther away from the shopping centers.

“Optimal health begins with the first step, which means understanding weight is a numbers game that you can win with wise portion-control decisions,” says Whitt.

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