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November 25, 2009

Anatomy of a Holiday Pig-Out

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While You Eat
Be aware that friendship is a dieter's enemy. A study by Pennsylvania State University found that when people ate among friends or family, they consumed about 50 percent more than if they were alone or among strangers. Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State, theorizes that drinking and watching others indulge lowers our resolve, and that conversation prolongs the meal and distracts us from calorie counting.

  • Tighten your belt. If you are wearing fitted clothing, you have a constant reminder not to overeat.

  • Go on a reconnaissance mission. Once you've checked out the buffet, you can pick out what you'll succumb to and what you'll ignore. Then serve yourself (if possible), so you can control portion sizes. Avoid sauces, cheese toppings, and nuts. You also might choose pumpkin pie over pecan pie (the latter has far more calories than the former).

  • Perfect the "platter pass." To further thwart temptation, make sure a low-fat dish lands by you when you pass dishes around the table.

  • Follow the "three quarter rule": Fill your plate three-fourths full of lower-calorie foods — salad, vegetables, turkey — and one-fourth full of higher-calorie choices, including stuffing and mashed potatoes. A further visual aid is making your plate appear fuller by creating a river of space, about an inch wide, between different foods.

  • Downsize your portions — and forget seconds. "The greatest pleasure comes from the first two or three forkfuls," says Peeke. She suggests putting a money value on each dish, with the more caloric ones being the priciest. "Tell yourself you have a budget, and decide where you'll spend it." A good place to splurge: the foods you only eat at holidays.

  • Prolong your pleasure. Eat slowly and take breathers. Get up from the table during the meal and leave the room. You need to get yourself out of an unconscious "food coma," which is when you eat and eat without realizing what's going on.

  • Make a point of signaling the end of your meal. When you've finished, have a mint or piece of gum to clear the taste of food from your mouth — it'll make post-meal nibbling less appealing.

    What happens to food after you've eaten it?

  • When you put down your silverware, your body has only begun a major production, eight hours in the making. When food enters your mouth, saliva breaks down each morsel. "The rate at which you eat and swallow affects how quickly you fill up," says Barbara J. Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University.

  • First to be metabolized is alcohol, which is sent directly to the liver to burn up within minutes. Liquids follow, and over the next few hours the body breaks down solid foods, disposing first of carbohydrates, then protein, leaving fats for last. Why? Because fats are more complex to break down. This is another reason why, after overeating, it's so often the fat calories that will be left over.

  • "A 3,000-calorie meal takes about two hours to be digested in the stomach, and another four to six hours for nutrients to be absorbed in the intestines," says Kenneth Koch, M.D., gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State. The food stimulates the release of hormones to alert the brain that you're full. "The higher the fat content and larger the meal," Koch says, "the more slowly food passes through the stomach, and the longer those satiety signals take to get their message across."

  • By morning, everything has been absorbed or disposed of. All that remains are the extra calories your body stores.

    Watch what you drink
  • Alcohol makes the calories add up faster than you think. Though the majority of our calories come from solid foods, "fluid calories also add to your caloric intake, but with little effect on your satiety," says Richard Mattes, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at Purdue University.

  • Alcohol also slows the breakdown of fat. In one study, people drank 100 grams of alcohol — about six drinks — and their ability to burn fat dropped more than 30 percent. "We burn fat in our liver. But when we drink alcohol, the alcohol burns instead of fat," says Charles Lieber, M.D., director of alcohol research, Bronx Veterans Administration Center.

    Beer (12 oz.), 138 cal.
    Light beer (12 oz.), 96 cal.
    Champagne (6 oz.), 121 cal.
    Red wine (6 oz.), 123 cal.
    Dry white wine (6 oz.), 114 cal.
    Manhattan (2 oz.), 145 cal.
    Vodka and tonic (8 oz.), 169 cal.
    Coffee liqueur (2 oz.), 191 cal.
    Vodka martini with olive (2 oz.), 149 cal.

    Why Am I Hungry the Morning After?
    You were as bloated as a balloon when you rolled into bed. So how come you wake up ravenous the next morning?

  • "Your gut is empty and begging for more food to fuel your body's daily functions," explains Bettye Nowlin, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. A large meal also makes your digestive system work overtime, raising your blood sugar. Once the meal is digested — usually while you sleep — your blood sugar drops, triggering greater secretion of insulin, which further whets the early morning hungries.

  • "There's also the effect of great expectations," says John Foreyt, Ph.D., director of nutrition research at Baylor College of Medicine. "If you eat a large meal, your mind tells you to do it again. It's a psychological phenomenon."

    Post pig-out
  • Don't berate yourself and start a downward spiral. "If you dwell on it, you may get depressed, which only leads to more eating," Alphin says.

  • Avoid the scale: You might get a scare since all that food makes you bloat — temporarily. You'll also retain water for a day or two (less if you drink more water during the meal and afterward).

  • Don't deprive yourself the next day to compensate. Your body will go into starvation mode — your metabolism will plummet so your body can hoard nutrients. Think of your dining splurge as a shopping one: Pay it off gradually with exercise and healthy eating.

  • Take your time to undo the damage — at least a week. You'll be less likely to binge as a reaction.

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