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Eating Tips For Festive Meals

If you think trying to lose weight and eating healthy all year round is difficult, the challenge becomes even tougher once the holiday season begins.

Denise Feeley, a nutritionist and dietitian at Washington Hospital Center and Medstar Research institute, visited The Early Show to demonstrate how to count calories and eat healthy during the holidays.

Food is everywhere on Thanksgiving, and it is the time when there are more opportunities to eat. Feeley says the best way to get through the holiday eating maze, is to take small portions of everything and avoid overloading on calories. It is not the time to start dieting, but to maintain weight.

People tend to gain about 1-5 pounds during the holiday season with people eating larger portion sizes than in the past, according to the Washington Hospital Center. Considering that it takes 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound of fat, gaining two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years means consuming 250 extra calories/day. That is not a lot. But, that's 5- to 10- pounds over five years of holiday eating. And, it gets harder to lose the pounds as one gets older.

Feeley suggests the following to avoid holiday weight gain:

  • Don't go to dinner hungry: People tend to overeat at events when they're hungry. Drink water to fill you up or have a small lunch, a piece of fruit or oatmeal as a late breakfast. If you go to a dinner hungry, you may fill up on high-calorie, high-fat appetizers even before the meal is served.
  • Survey the dinner table prior to dinner: Check out what is being served and choose only the foods that you really enjoy. Serve yourself a reasonable portion of all the foods you plan to eat. Do not waste your calories on food you can consume anytime of the year, such as dinner rolls or bread. Eat something that's served only at holiday meals. Also, save room for festive treats.
  • Watch alcohol consumption: Drinks can add unnecessary calories to the body. For example, one cup of eggnog has about 350 calories, one glass of wine has 150 calories and one mixed drink has about 250 calories.
  • Serve yourself a reasonable portion: Start with vegetables. They are great, but watch out for the starchy ones. Usually a scoop or half a cup of your other favorite foods are good. More than likely, you are going to have a lot to choose from, so you will probably get full on a smaller serving than what you are used to.
  • Slow down your eating: Americans eat way too fast and by the time the brain and stomach have coordinated what has been eaten, it is too late. More than likely, you have overeaten and instead of being full, you feel uncomfortably stuffed. Slow down eating and focus on socializing with people. Also, try taking a 10- to 15-minute break from eating. The strategies will help fill stomachs before overeating.
  • Avoid seconds: When the serving is done, think again about eating seconds. The food will be around the next day.
  • Remove food from the table immediately: Clearing the table after dinner will help against the temptation to pick at food left on the plate. Another strategy is to leave the dining area and congregate in a room away from the food.
  • Exercise after the meal: It can be as simple as taking a walk around the block. This is a great way to spend time with the family and friends and burn some calories at the same time. Physical activity is essential at this time of year to help burn the extra calories.

Here are some favorite holiday foods and their caloric and fat equivalents from the Washington Hospital Center:


  • Skinless white meat turkey - 150 calories per 3 oz. serving, 4 grams of fat
  • Skinless dark meat turkey - 225 calories per 3 oz. serving, 13 grams of fat
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes with low-fat margarine and skim milk - 80 calories, 1 gram of fat
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes with regular margarine or butter and regular milk or sour cream - 200 calories, 13 grams of fat
  • 1/2 cup stuffing - 195 calories, 10 grams of fat
  • Three 3-inch frosted sugar cookies - 350 calories, 15 grams of fat
  • One slice of apple pie - 420 calories, 18 grams of fat
  • One slice of pumpkin pie (good source of Vitamin A and fiber) - 320 calories and 13 grams of fat
  • One-fourth cup of canned gravy - 30 calories, 0 grams of fat. (Homemade gravy contains many more calories)
  • One sweet potato - 117 calories, 0 grams of fat
  • One serving of candied sweet potatoes - 240 calories, 0 grams of fat
  • 1/2 cup of canned and jelled cranberries - 208 calories, 0 grams of fat
  • One cup of plain cranberries - 47 calories, 0 grams of fat