The holidays and party season are officially underway and here come the holiday celebrations where food is the focus.
Translation: Weight gain.
But not for triathlete Ed Rusk. He works year-round to stay in good shape, so no way he's going to give it all up just because the holidays are here. His secret?
"Portion control is key for me, especially at this time of year," says Rusk, 48, director of finance and administration for Chattem Chemicals in Chattanooga. "Sure, I slip up, but the way I get back on track is to cut back the next meal, eat more fruits/veggies to let my body balance out. What gets me is social eating. Everyone wants to have a party surrounding food. It's hard to resist but, once again, I'll just eat a smaller portion."
Still, not everyone has the willpower and regimen of Rusk, so if you're trying to stay fit during the holidays -- or just not pig out so much that you blimp up -- there are other steps you can take.
Experts note that not all calories are created equal. For instance, your body is going to treat a 100-calorie banana differently than a 100-calorie pack of teeny chocolate chip cookies. The banana has potassium and vitamins that your body can use without gaining weight; the cookies are pretty much carbs and sugars, both of which can be blubber building. So you've got to be aware of what you're eating, not just how much.
Rusk's wife, Britta Rusk, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga. Also a dedicated athlete like her husband, she says there are several ways to eat healthy food during the holidays.
One suggestion is to pick up a smaller plate before making food choices.
"View the buffet first and then make your selections," she says. "Take 'small' tastes of high-calorie foods [and] eat until satisfied, not stuffed."
And always wait 10 to 15 minutes before going back for second, she says, because that gives your body time to "feel" full, which may reduce the amount you get on a second pass or even make a second pass unneeded.
Also be mindful that beverages, including alcoholic drinks and punch, have calories, she says. Water is always a healthy alternative.
To make it easier to avoid the high-calorie items, "offer to bring a low-calorie, healthful dish to the party," she says.
If you're uncertain what kinds of foods will be on the menu, she suggests eating a small, low-calorie meal or snack prior to the party. A small salad with vegetables and reduced-fat dressing or vinegar will do the trick, and so will a mixed fruit salad, a carton of Greek-style yogurt or a bowl of broth-based soup.
The point of a party is to mingle with friends and enjoy yourself, she notes, not scarf down food non-stop.
"Be the life of the party," she says. "Focus on the party activities and not the buffet table."
If you're hosting a holiday party and want to offer guests nutrient-rich, non-high-caloric dishes, it's easily done, says chef Deborah Anziano, a Cleveland, Tenn., resident and owner of Debo's Kitchen.
Start with buying fresh, she says.
"It's a priority for me," she says. "From local farmers markets to the guys at Walmart in the produce section, we know each other on a first-name basis. ... Local supports the local farmers and you know where your foods are coming from and that's a great feeling.
"I'm a believer that your grocery cart should look like your plate of food -- half of it should be fresh produce, if not more."
Canned foods tend to be overcooked, she says. Still, there are some canned staples she keeps on hand: tomatoes, artichokes and roasted red bell peppers.
But frozen vegetables are OK, if you can't get fresh.
"Frozen veggies have come a long way since my childhood," says Anziano, 38. "Companies have learned the secrets to individually quick freezing (referred to as 'IQF' in the culinary world) the vegetables which preserves the taste and quality of the vegetable and fruit, but, then again, I prefer fresh."
Like Rusk, Anziano is a believer in eating in moderation.
"I believe 'everything in moderation,'" she says. "What's life without bacon? Of course you can leave the bacon out for a much healthier version, but if you use a good bacon with more meat and less fat, you're making a good choice."
Shelley Alexander, chef and author of "Deliciously Holistic," a book of healthy recipes and holistic lifestyle tips, says that nutrient-rich, whole foods help to lessen cravings which allows one to maintain weight without counting calories, according to a story in the Dayton Daily News in Ohio.
"Stick to whole, healthy foods this holiday season and you'll feel so good you won't want to go near the buffet table at your office party," she says.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396