By Jan Sheehan
The holidays are a scary time for dieters, but you can stick to your diet though Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here's how to regain control after common seasonal slip-ups -- so you might even lose weight this year.
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You drank too much eggnog at the office party.
Undo the damage. You can blame your wicked hangover and pounding headache on dehydration and the toxins your body had to release to metabolize all that booze. "Alcohol also increases the secretion of acid in the stomach and irritates the stomach lining," says Robert Swift, MD, PhD, associate director of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies in Providence. Relieve your misery by eating a piece of toast with honey. Greasy foods, like fried eggs and sausages, will only overtax your irritated digestive system and make it pump out more acid, Dr. Swift says. Honey is an excellent source of fructose, a sugar that research shows may help your body get rid of alcohol's toxins more quickly. Rehydrate with plenty of water and pop an ibuprofen, which was found to relieve aches faster and better than acetaminophen in a study in the journal Headache.
Stay the course. To outsmart calories (eggnog packs more than 200 a cup) and hangovers at future fetes, order a mixed drink, such as vodka and club soda; it is low in calories (about 100), easy to dilute (just add soda), and less likely to cause a humongous hangover. "The darker the booze, the worse you'll feel the next day," Dr. Swift says. That's because dark liquor contains more congeners, chemicals produced during the fermentation process that are to blame for many hangover symptoms. Also avoid screwdrivers, vodka and cranberry juice, and other drinks made with fruit, says Heather Bauer, RD, coauthor of The Wall Street Diet. The sugar in these cocktails will leave you craving more of the sweet stuff, making pecan pie, peppermint bark, Christmas cookies, you name it, irresistible.
You went overboard at last night's holiday dinner.
Undo the damage. Even if you ate enough to feed Santa, Mrs. Claus, and all the reindeer, don't starve yourself to make up for it. "Deprivation will set you up to overeat again," says Patricia Bannan, RD, a nutritionist in Los Angeles and author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. Eat a high-fiber breakfast (try a bowl of bran cereal with a handful of raisins), drink plenty of water, and work out to get things, um, moving. Munch on foods that are high in H2O (cucumbers, celery, and melon) and potassium (bananas, apricots, and pumpkin) to flush excess water out of your cells and reduce bloating, Bannan suggests. Steer clear of supersalty foods, such as pickles, olives, cured meats, and most frozen meals, as well as carbonated drinks.
Stay the course. When you're dining at a friend's or a relative's, bring a healthy dish that you can dig into guilt-free. Then choose sweet potatoes over mashed with gravy, and broccoli over green bean casserole. Skip the rolls even if they're whole wheat; chances are you already have plenty of carbs. Help yourself to a double serving of salad to fill up without filling out, and just say no when Aunt Edna insists that you have another spoonful of her stuffing ('tis the season for food pushers!). A little humor will take the edge off, so say, "Your stuffing is so good, but if I eat another bite I'll be more stuffed than that bird!" When you play hostess, fix lighter fare (make your green bean casserole with fresh beans and sauteed onions rather than cream of mushroom soup and fried onions). And since Turkey Day leftovers are even more delectable and easier to overindulge in, send guests home with doggie bags.
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You haven't been to the gym in more than two weeks.
Undo the damage. You only think your hiatus has turned you into the sugar-plump fairy. "It takes at least three weeks to lose aerobic condition and muscle strength," says exercise physiologist and personal trainer Alice Burron, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Once you start working out, you'll be up to speed again in no time. The real challenge is getting your head back in the game, so try these tricks from FITNESS readers: "Think ahead to how energized and accomplished you'll feel after you exercise," says Lani Muelrath, a fitness trainer in Magalia, California. Or register for a Zumba session or a running club, suggests Pearl McGregor, a respiratory therapist in McKinney, Texas. "If you sign up for a class and pay for it, you have to go!" she says. Still not feeling it? "A cute new workout outfit is an instant motivator," says Brandi White, a ballet instructor in Phoenix.
Stay the course. Take baby steps, every day. "Even a 20-minute walk will keep you in the exercise habit," says clinical psychologist Judith Beck, PhD, author of The Beck Diet Solution, and chances are you'll be inspired to keep going. No time to hit the gym? Shape up in your living room with an exercise ball, 5-pound weights, and a resistance band. Burron recommends moves that target several muscle groups. Or sneak fitness into your holiday to-dos, suggests Heather Chambliss, PhD, professor of exercise behavior at the University of Memphis. Combing the mall for two hours blasts about 350 calories; boost the burn by doing biceps curls with shopping bags while waiting to pay for gift number 207. If you're really moving, an hour spent climbing up and down a ladder hoisting lights is comparable to an easy workout.
You've been working long hours to prep for holiday vacation, so dinner is always delivery.
Undo the damage. Today is the day you start working smarter so you can get home in time to cook a healthy meal. Go to the office early (extra hours in the morning, when you're fresh, are more productive) and outline your to-dos. If possible, delegate time-sucking projects that can easily be done by others, and avoid multitasking. When subjects in a study from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor tried to switch between two tasks, their productivity dropped by 50 percent or more. Tell associates to call with urgent concerns so you can turn off e-mail alerts, and check your in-box just three times a day. "That seemingly harmless ding or pop-up instant message actually creates a huge disruption," Beck notes.
Stay the course. If you're logging overtime despite your new and improved habits, spend some time in the kitchen on the weekend. On Sunday, whip up a vegetarian chili or stir-fry and refrigerate it. Or stock up on ingredients for quick-as-a-wink after-work dinners: low-sodium soups, microwavable brown rice, frozen veggies, rotisserie chicken, and peeled shrimp. If you must do delivery, cheesy and creamy aren't the only adjectives on the menuto avoid. Also watch out for crunchy (translation: fried), says Bannan, and order sauce on the side so you can use it sparingly. Instead of ordering in, stop on your way home to pick up a burger from a restaurant (topped with onions and mushrooms and without the bun, it weighs in at about 300 calories) or a ready-made salad from the supermarket (just use your own low-calorie
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You've been staying up till the wee hours. Your little helper? A colossal mocha with whipped cream.
Undo the damage. "Holiday activities lead to significant sleep loss, driving people to caffeine and sugar," says Cornell University sleep researcher James Maas, PhD, coauthor of Sleep for Success! Lack of zzz's also triggers a drop in leptin (the hormone that tells your brain, "I'm full") and a rise in ghrelin (the one that screams, "I'm starving!"). Stay alert without wrecking your diet by ordering a 12-ounce skim latte (100 calories compared with 450 in a massive mocha), but hit the coffee shop before midafternoon or your sleep could suffer. Eat for all-day energy by combining protein and complex carbs at every meal: a veggie omelet and a small bran muffin for breakfast, grilled chicken on whole wheat bread for lunch, whole-grain pasta with baked fish for dinner, and lots of produce all day. "Healthy carbs give you longer-lasting energy than simple sugars from cake and candy," Bannan says.
Stay the course. Getting more sleep is easier said than done; luckily, quality, not just quantity, affects how rested you feel. A small carb-based snack, like a banana, an hour before bed will speed your body's release of tryptophan, which steps up production of snooze-inducing serotonin, Maas says. Turn off your TV and computer 30 minutes before you turn in. Light, even that from a flickering screen, can disrupt your body clock, as can a warm room. The magic number? Sixty-seven degrees. If you're still tired during the day, try these calorie-free pick-me-ups: Go for a quick run or pop a piece of sugar-free gum. Chewing works the facial muscles, which increases the flow of blood to your head and keeps you alert. You'll feel refreshed -- and revved to hit more holiday parties with the energy and willpower to stick to your diet.