Q: I’m trying not to overeat during the holidays, but I hate measuring my food. Is there another way?
Eating and drinking more calories than your body can burn is especially easy at this time of year. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for avoiding the calorie overload that can make you feel sluggish and promote weight gain. You have lots of research-tested options, and a combination of strategies is likely better than relying on any one strategy.
Stay Portion-Aware – Especially when extra-rich holiday foods are around, appropriate portions are more important than ever. If you don’t want to measure portions:
At home, switch to smaller plates. Studies show that the larger your plate, the more food you’ll put on it, and the more you’ll eat. Use 8- to 9-inch “salad plates” for an automatic assist on portion control.
If you get take-out, transferring your food to the 8- to 9-inch plates can help you avoid the tendency to eat on autopilot until the food is all gone.
If you pick up calorie-rich treats like chips, cookies or ice cream, serve a modest portion onto a small plate or “custard cup” size bowl and put the package away.
Aside from vegetables and fruit, keep extra food off the table and out of eyesight so getting more is a conscious choice.
Consider Pre-Portioned Meals – Research has shown that using pre-portioned food can provide short-term help for cutting calories and achieving weight loss. However, as Alice reported a few weeks ago on research shared at the AICR Research Conference, that advantage is often short-lived as weight loss begins to equal other weight loss strategies within one year.
If you are especially rushed and distracted at this time of year, pre-portioned meals and snacks may be a good temporary option , even if it’s not a long-term solution. Particularly for meals that you eat alone, you can try:
Choosing a healthful option from frozen meals or the booming trend of take-out fresh meals from the grocery store may help.
Create your own frozen meals using the wide range of plastic dishes with separate compartments or small glass dishes. To minimize effort, choose containers that are both freezer- and microwave safe; and to keep your food safe, mind tips from the USDA.
If healthy pre-portioned meals and snacks still leave you hungry, make a more filling meal with only a small increase in calories by adding extra raw vegetables, a side salad or a piece of fruit for dessert. If that doesn’t help, check the MyPlate Daily Checklist to make sure you haven’t under-estimated your calorie needs .
Focus on What’s In Your Portions – Whether you manage portion sizes by paying more attention, using smaller plates, or relying on pre-set portions, focusing only on restricting how much you eat without considering what you eat and drink is not setting you up for success.
Especially at holiday time, you’re surrounded by choices that are concentrated in calories. Even small portions of rich desserts, sweetened eggnog, high-fat appetizers, and celebratory cocktails can add a few hundred calories apiece to your daily tally.
You can make soups, dips and sauces for mixed dishes that are traditionally loaded with sour cream or heavy cream lower in calories and more healthful by using Greek yogurt or evaporated milk, or adding puréed beans to boost thickness.
Add extra vegetables and reduce the proportion of pasta and potatoes in mixed dishes to make a hearty portion lower in calories.
If calorie-rich foods surround you, be choosy. Make the season manageable by choosing the calorie-dense foods and drinks that are most important to you, and letting the others go.
AICR HealthTalk is by Karen Collins, MS, RDN.