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Mindful Eating Can Help You Avoid Weight Gain

  • Category: Hospital News
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  • Written By: Christopher Brown

Learn Tips for Healthy Eating During the Holidays and All Year Long

November marks the beginning of the eating season. From now until the end of the year, we will be tempted with savory delights and decadent sweet treats, not to mention high-calorie beverages. But there are ways to enjoy all the parties, family gatherings and workplace celebrations without gaining too much weight this holiday season.

“It’s really about mindful eating,” said Dr. Tam Nguyen, a family physician at Washington Township Medical Foundation’s Nakamura Clinic in Union City. He specializes in diabetes and weight management. “It’s important to pay attention to what you eat all year long so you can maintain a healthy weight, but it gets more difficult during the holidays when there are more opportunities to eat foods that are full of sugar, fat and sodium.”

He said start by finding ways to enjoy some of your favorite foods without all the fat and calories. There are substitutions you can make that don’t change the flavor, but reduce the fat and calories. For example, fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese can be used in recipes that call for these items. Applesauce can be substituted for oil in cakes, brownies and muffins. Egg whites can be used in place of whole eggs.

When it comes to the bird, don’t deep fry your turkey. Instead cook it in the oven or in a smoker, he suggested. Avoid the skin, which is high in fat and calories.

Beverages can contain a lot of hidden calories, particularly alcoholic and cream-based drinks, Dr. Nguyen added. Make hot chocolate with fat-free milk and keep the whipped cream or marshmallows to a minimum. Dilute eggnog with low-fat milk and try to avoid consuming too much alcohol. For hot cider, be sure to start with apple juice that has no added sugar.

Gravy and salad dressing can also be minefields, he said. Gravy is full of saturated fat and should be used sparingly. Salad dressings like Cesar are loaded with calories.

Step Away from the Buffet Table

A big part of mindful eating is modifying your behavior in ways that can help you avoid overeating, according to Dr. Nguyen. For example, when you go to a holiday gathering, don’t stand near the food table. Make a small plate for yourself and then move away.

“You can try all the items, but just put a tiny amount of each on your plate,” he added. “It’s much harder to go back for seconds, so start small.”

Another tip for eating less at a party is to drink plenty of water or club soda. It helps to keep your stomach feeling full.

“Try to eat with utensils as much as you can,” Dr. Nguyen said. “It slows down the eating process. Eating slowly is important to avoid overeating. There is a delay from the time you are full and when your brain knows you are full, so if you eat slowly it has time to catch up.”

Before the festivities begin, be sure to have a plan of action, he said. Think about how much you are going to eat. Have a healthy snack before you leave home so you don’t show up hungry. If you are attending a party, take a healthy dish so you know there will be something there for you to eat. Before going to a restaurant, look for the menu online so you can determine which items might be the healthiest for you. That way you won’t give in to temptation when you get there. Look for items that are grilled rather than fried, and avoid fatty sauces and dressings, he added.

It’s also important to keep moving if you want to avoid weight gain over the holidays, according to Dr. Nguyen. You can easily incorporate physical activity into family gatherings and celebrations. He suggested going for a walk to see the neighborhood lights after dinner, or taking a hike or ice skating before gathering for the meal. When doing your holiday shopping, park far from the store entrance and take the stairs instead of the escalator.

“It’s really about mindful eating rather than mindless eating, where you just shovel food into your mouth without thinking about how much you really want it or if it’s a good food choice for you,” Dr. Nguyen added. “These tips can help you eat less over the holidays and throughout the year. Incorporating mindful eating into your daily life helps you pay closer attention to what you are eating and how much. You need to do it every day to maintain a healthy weight.”

For information about programs and services at Washington Hospital that can help you stay healthy, visit