If you want to eat less this holiday season, there's a simple solution: Eat more.
Eat more from the fruit bowl and vegetable canapé tray, that is.
A growing number of studies suggest that loading up on fruit and vegetables significantly lowers calorie consumption without increasing hunger. What's more, emerging research shows that boosting fruit and vegetable intake can even help compensate for indulging in some high-fat fare, which is so abundant (and tasty) this time of year.
"If you eat nine or more servings of fruit and vegetables, you can decrease total calories even with a high-fat diet," notes Barbara Rolls, a Pennsylvania State University professor of nutrition and author.
Welcome to Week Six of the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. With Christmas just days away and New Year's Eve around the corner, the season is building to a crescendo of parties and other celebrations. These are the conditions for a perfect caloric storm that can blow away your weight-control efforts and billow your waistline.
Here's what experts advise to help you make it through the holidays unburdened by unwanted pounds.
Snack before parties. A little food in your stomach -- say a glass of skim milk and a banana, or a cup of vegetable soup -- before the festivities you can help "delay the impulse to run to the food at parties," said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh.
Eat only from a plate. Doing so helps you pace your consumption and allows you to gauge what you're eating. While you're at it, eat only while seated. Sit and savor your holiday fare, advises Arthur Frank, medical director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program. And avoid finger foods: It's easy to lose track of how many handfuls of peanuts or chips and dip you've consumed.
Practice portion control. No, you don't need to carry measuring cups and spoons around the party. At LGE Performance in Orlando, registered dietitian Raquel Malo teaches her clients to use their hands to gauge portion size. Malo says a good balance is to eat one handful of protein-rich food for every two handfuls of fruit or vegetables and two handfuls of whole-grain products. So dinner could be about a handful of salmon, a small roll and single handfuls each of wild rice, broccoli and fresh fruit.
Imbibe only with food. Skip the egg nog, hot mulled wine and other alcoholic beverages before dinner. Not only will you save a couple hundred calories per drink, but you'll be less likely to get too, well, joyful, and overeat.
Move it. Staying active not only helps burn calories but can reduce stress, improve mood and even help with sleep. And as GWU's Frank points out, no need to make a big deal about getting to the gym. Lace on your walking shoes and take a quick constitutional. Or clean the house: You've probably got company coming and you can burn about 150 calories per hour vacuuming (for a 140-pound person.)
And if at all possible, get in a full workout. As one Lean Plate Club member noted in a recent Web chat, "I've never regretted a workout, but have often regretted not getting one."
The Health section takes off next week, but we'll be back on Jan. 4. Look for a roundup about the Holiday Challenge in the Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter. Tell us how you handled the challenge by e-mailing email@example.com.