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How do I control my eating during the overindulgent holiday season?

If you're going to sample those special cookies

If you're going to sample those special cookies and cakes, at least avoid the mundane everyday snacks like crackers and cheese. Photo Credit: MCT

It's practically unpatriotic or a mortal sin not to overeat and overdrink during "The Holidays" -- the dreaded season that starts with Thanksgiving and progresses through Christmas until the show-stopping gourmet overkill of New Year's. This time period can cause a sense of unease.

My philosophy remains the same -- make the low-calorie choices where possible, don't waste calories unnecessarily, make sure you keep up your exercise program, avoid deprivation, eat a variety of foods and remember that no food is forbidden.

Here are some specific tips to make it easier to implement the philosophy:

Do your exercise workout before the big holiday meal. Then eat a light snack. Since you've snacked before the party and aren't all that hungry, keep your distance from the area where guests are densely grazing among the hors d'oeuvres, imported cheeses and sausages and calorie-laden dips. Remember: Studies show people do eat more at buffets.

Drinking prompts people to eat more, faster, for a longer time and to continue eating even after they are full. Alcoholic drinks tend to be high in calories. And you probably don't need a research study to know that drinking can certainly decrease your resistance to temptation. Booze offers a triple whammy to the weight-conscious: it's high in calories, makes you eat more and probably incites you to eat high-calorie foods.

My standard advice on this subject is pretty simple -- and highly effective. Make the first drink a seltzer, mineral water or even plain water dolled up with a twist of lemon or lime if you like. Why? Because the first drink tends to go down very quickly.

Then order a glass of wine, a cocktail or a bottle of beer. Even better, make the second drink a club soda, too. And if the party is a dinner, be sure to ask for water as well as alcohol; alternate between the two as the meal progresses. It's a way to pace your drinking and lessen alcohol's impact on your eating.

Only celebrate on the holidays. Those who indulge from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day without a break could gain seven to 12 pounds. If you celebrate only on the holidays, you can enjoy those days and avoid the weight gain by eating well the rest of the season.

Shapiro is a New York City weight loss specialist and the New York Times best-selling author of the "Picture Perfect Weight Loss" book series.

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