Simple tips to avoid those holiday pounds

Sandra R. Cain For Better Living

Research shows that most Americans gain from 2 to 4 pounds during the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. We can always count on the holidays to challenge and tempt us with too many choices at the table. Too many extras combined with too little activity can lead to extra pounds.

To prevent too many extra pounds piling on as festivities continue into the New Year, consider trying these simple strategies to help handle all those holiday temptations.

— Eat an apple: An apple a day does more than keep the doctor away. In a recent study, people who ate an apple about 15 minutes before lunch consumed nearly 190 fewer calories. The study showed nearly identical results with a similar caloric amount of applesauce or apple juice.

— Eat soup first: Eating soup prior to your meal reduces hunger and increases the feeling of fullness. Study participants consumed about 100 fewer calories when they ate soup rather than drank a similar quantity of beverages, including water. The catch is that the soup must have a water base, rather than cream or cheese, which not surprisingly would add many more calories. Remember that soup toppers like croutons and sour cream also add extra calories. It is healthier to choose tomato-based soup and chicken vegetable soup over French onion with added bread and cheese or any type of cream-based soup.

— Pace yourself: Eat lighter earlier in the day for an event that’s sure to include extra calories. Try to avoid skipping breakfast or lunch. Skipping a meal causes your body to starve for calories but your satiety barometer can’t work effectively and you often end up overeating to compensate. A better strategy is to pace yourself throughout the day to have a little less and then you can enjoy those “extras” later.

— Be picky: Avoid the foods that are available to you any time -nuts, crackers, cheese and other processed foods. Spend your extra calories on specialty and home-made delicacies that you’re likely to only have at this time of year.

— Little bites: Who wants to feel deprived during the holidays? Not me! Go for little bites of many different things so you can taste it all. This boils down to portion control. Using a salad plate instead of a full-sized plate also can jump start this strategy for you in the buffet line.

— Burn calories: Exercise is always a useful tool when you’re looking to burn extra calories. If you already have an exercise routine, keep it up during the rush of the holidays. If you can’t fit in your entire exercise routine, just get your body moving. Walking is a great stress reducer and doesn’t require special equipment or memberships-only. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Get a pedometer and use your holiday shopping time to work toward the recommended goal of 10,000 steps a day. Consider treating yourself when you’re gift buying for others and pick up a workout DVD or an exercise ball.

— Push away: There is also the other form of exercise that’s easy but we often forget to do. Push yourself away from the table or stand across the room from food on the buffet table. Make it easier on yourself not to be tempted.

At this time of year we are so busy doing things for others that we forget to make ourselves a priority. If you put yourself first, I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel better come January because you won’t be trying to figure out how to get those extra pounds off. What a great way to start off the new year-ahead of the game.

Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension

Sugar-Free Cocoa Mix

2 cups nonfat dry milk powder

½ cup fat-free powdered nondairy creamer

½ cup baking cocoa

½ cup sugar substitute

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Mix well. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.

To prepare hot cocoa: Dissolve 1/3 cup mix in 1 cup boiling water. Stir well.

Sugar and Spice Popcorn

4 quarts air-popped popcorn

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

Place popcorn in a large roasting pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. In a saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add the sugar, water, cinnamon and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour over popcorn. Toss to coat. Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at or 910-862-4591.

Sandra R. Cain For Better Living R. Cain For Better Living