Well, it is definitely the holiday season. This is evidenced by my 6 holiday eating “celebrations” just this week . I going to a holiday “girls dinner,” lunch at PI for my “Hot Topics” class, a holiday work party on Friday night, and the list goes on. I am looking forward to them all, but I must admit, these food-centered events will lead to a calorie heavy week. Part of the holiday fun includes enjoying seasonal foods. As a dietitian who likes to promote rather than demote foods, I urge my nutrition clients to savor in these food festivities. I emphasize the word “savor” and remind them about the power of being mindful. I recently read an eye-opening book about the environment’s influence on our food choices. The book, “Mindless Eating,” by food psychologist, Brian Wainsink shares his research on the role of environment on eating behaviors. Even for a dietitian who is already supposed to “know” all of this stuff, his findings provided me some real insight for drafting a healthy holiday eating game plan for both myself and my clients. Here are some of the take home messages I received from reading Dr. Wainsink’s book. Check it out for many more pearls of eating wisdom. 1) Take the smallest plate In Dr. Wainsink’s research, he studied the eating habits of overweight individuals versus healthy weight individuals at a holiday buffet. The healthy weight participants were 7 times more likely to choose the smaller plates over the larger plates. For many of us, (esp those who have gotten new serving ware over the past couple of years), the salad plate can easily serve as our dinner plate. And the glasses! The wine glasses we got for our wedding last year hold a whopping 15 oz of wine. Without even knowing it, we serve AND eat almost 50% more when we use bigger plates, glasses, etc. So, use the smaller dishes, and then, if you are still hungry after serving your holiday food, allow yourself to go back for more.

2) Eat Slowly, and Just Eat Those who are overweight also ate 3 times faster. I realize that every once in awhile we must read, work, or stand up while eating. But are there times where we could slow down, taste our food, and give food our undivided attention? If so, the research proves, you are much more likely to feel satisfied after you are finished, and potentially eat less. 3) Distract and remove I linger around food tables at parties. Is it a comfort thing? Is it an easy way to stuff something in my mouth in case I say something I didn’t want to say? 🙂 Or do I just love holiday food as much as the next person? Either way, Dr. Wainsink’s research also tells that the closer we position ourselves to the food, the more we eat. So those two extra hot wings? Whether I wanted them or not, I consumed 100 extra calories that I had no “mental” note of eating. The overweight individuals in his study sat 16 feet closer to the buffet table. 4) Do the fly-by 71% of those healthy weight individuals perused the food offerings before serving themselves versus only 33% of the overweight individuals. Getting an idea of how you want to spend your caloric budget can really make a difference on how much food and what foods will fill your plate. I tend to avoid those “common” foods that I can eat on any typically day. Take for instance, mashed potatoes, boring (to me), so why waste the bites? I would much rather have my mom’s sugary sweet potatoes. Either way, I have made a mental game plan of my plates fate. 5) See What You Eat: This was an interesting one. Dr. Wainsink makes the argument that if you could SEE everything you ate while you ate it, that you would eat much less. To prove this point, he provided graduate students free hot wings at a happy hour. He asked the waitstaff to remove only half of the students’ plates of empty bones. Those students who were left staring at the pile of bones ate 20-30% less than those students whose plates were removed. In general, most foods after consumed don’t leave a pile of reminders on your plate, but the take away strategy for holiday eating is to fill your plate with EVERYTHING you intend to eat. Instead of thinking you will take several plates of small amounts, get it all done at once. Mentally, you will see a larger amount of food, feel full faster, and this will allow you to focus on the friends and family: the real purpose of the party. Tis the season for holiday eating! If this season you find yourself enjoying the tasty treats while being more mindful and balanced, you will be able to reflect back on a happy and healthy holiday time, and feel ready to face Jan 1st 2010.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.