Joy to the scales

By following a few rules, you’ll be able to keep the pounds off during the holidays

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, when it’s oh-so-easy to begin to look a lot like Santa Claus.

Sweet temptations are everywhere. The office, in particular, can be a deathtrap for the best of healthy holiday intentions.

Say no to holiday goodies? Not gonna happen, at least not for most of us.

So how, exactly, can we expect to not balloon up as all this sweet stuff crosses our every path? By treating December like a good-intention-laden January.

There’s a decent chance you’ll be unhappy with your weight after the holidays anyway, so why not start sooner rather than later?

“I do think there are some useful ‘tricks’ we can have up our sleeves to help keep stress levels low and excess pounds off,” says Dan Graham, visiting assistant professor of psychology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

“And in 2010, you won’t need to make that familiar resolution to lose the holiday weight.”

Yes, even with co-workers bringing sugar bombs to the office, with carb-loaded holiday repasts and with seasonal stress that makes us want to reach for that half-gallon of Haagen-Dazs.

Here are tips for each of the 12 days of Christmas:

In the office

Take a hike: Or just take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get up from your desk more often, even if it’s just to make inquiries with co-workers personally rather than electronically. And consider buying yourself an early present: a pedometer.

Be gracious – in person: When the office assistant swings by with a platter of confections, “take the treats and smile,” Graham says. “Then bring them home and dispose of them.

“No one’s feelings will be hurt if the cut-out cookies find their way into the kitchen trash rather than into your stomach.”

Out of sight, out of mind: We’re much more likely to gobble down tree-shaped sugar cookies if they’re “eyeing” us from across the room.

“Seeing food is a strong cue to eat food,” Graham notes.

He suggests coming to work with “opaque holiday cookie tins to store the calorie-dense treats you anticipate others will be bringing in. You’ll have spread some holiday cheer and also saved yourself (and others) some unwanted calories.”

On the party circuit

Party smartly: Eat something beforehand so you don’t arrive at a party hungry. And once you arrive, don’t stand next to that crockpot filled with cocktail wienies. Move along, there’s nothing to eat here.

Do not deprive yourself of the seasonal foods you really like, but try to stick with the true treat and avoid the “bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one” stuff that’s on party platters year-round.

Careful with the quaffing: Alcoholic beverages are uniformly calorie-laden, so be careful with consumption.

Cutting back on soda is not the worst idea, either. The alternative: Water, water everywhere. Which also helps with:

Fill up, not out: Feeling bloated is as much a part of the holidays as “Jingle Bell Rock” (and just as annoying).

“It takes the body and brain around 20 minutes to recognize satiation,” says Graham. “Some dieters have found that simply drinking a large glass of water before meals helps them to feel full sooner and thus eat less.”

At home

“Trick out” that table setting: Smaller plates and bowls do make a difference, Graham says, adding that it has been proven that “people will drink more out of short, fat glasses than out of tall, skinny glasses – even if the two differently shaped glasses hold the same amount of liquid.”

Recycle: If you have leftover cookies or other sweets, send them to your kids’ school or take them to a homeless or senior center. Or throw them out rather than eating them just because they’re there.

And if you receive food gifts, well, that’s why God invented “re-gifting.”

A not-so-blue Christmas: It’s natural to have periods of feeling down or out, particularly around the holidays, and a common coping mechanism is … eating.

“Some have found great success avoiding eating when not hungry simply by chewing gum,” Graham says.

Getting out of the place where the blues set in and taking a long walk is doubly beneficial.

Out and about

More fruit, less fruitcake: Scaling back a little on the usual suspects is a lot more realistic than eliminating them altogether.

If you really like holiday sweets and don’t want to give them up, sacrifice elsewhere. Skip the “butter” with your movie popcorn, and don’t finish the ginormous portions that too many restaurants serve.

Go the extra mile: Stop circling the mall parking lot and just find a spot that entails a long walk. It’s better for you and the ozone layer.

And it’s not a mortal sin to skip a gym session because you need to decorate or clean the house for entertaining (both of which involve exercise) or to shop (just take an extra lap around the mall).

Cravin’ behavior: When cravings inevitably arrive, drinking water can be a temporary solution.

But remember: “Research has demonstrated that both brain and body rebel against deprivation,” says Graham, who suggests occasionally “giving in to the craving.”

“Have that gingerbread cookie or that slice of apple pie,” he says. “But eat small portions of these things.”

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