"People are not aware we have hunger hormones that determine what we eat and how much," said Villacorta. "It's called ghrelin. It's pretty much like if you had a little monster in you, and it determines how much you want to eat. It needs to be fed every three to four hours."
Villacorta, author of Eating Free, said it is important to eat throughout the day, even for people who are planning to attend a big party later.
Skipping early meals as an excuse to "save calories" and eat a bigger dinner does not work because it is harder for the body to determine when it has had enough.
A snack with a healthy balance of protein and carbs – such as a boiled egg and a piece of fruit – an hour before a party will curb overeating.
Villacorta and other experts offered simple, doable steps for avoiding excess weight during the holidays.
Water, water and more water – It's important to drink water throughout the day, but especially before meals because it takes up space and creates the feeling of fullness quicker. It is also a healthier alternative to other drinks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can replace three drinks during the day with plain water, sparkling water or water flavored with a slice of lemon or splash of fruit juice and cut as many as 670 calories.
Spandex is not your friend – Many of us know that person who puts on loose clothing before diving into a buffet. Wearing pants with an elastic waistline doesn't help when there is a table full of food because it takes longer to realize we're stuffed.
Go for what you know – Some folks grab a little bit of everything and eat all of it, even if they don't like it. Bottom line: If you're not positive you will love it, don't put it on your plate. You can experiment with new food when there is less of it around.
Offer food as a gift – The food experts at Epicurious recommend asking the host if you can bring a dish to a gathering. Preparing a healthy dish yourself guarantees there is something on the table that won't completely wreck your diet.
Clean house – "There are going to be goodies everywhere – the office, banks, other people – you will encounter them everywhere," said Villacorta. "The last place you want to encounter them is in your home. It's a good idea to keep your house clean of temptation, trigger foods."
Exercise now, not later – If you hate to work out, the American Heart Association said you can use typical fall and winter tasks – such as raking leaves and shoveling snow – to get a brisk workout in. Also, use family gatherings to do things like play team sports or go skating and sledding.
As a general rule, starting ahead is better than catching up. By developing a regular exercise routine, you form the mentality of maintaining your weight instead of feeling you have to compensate for overeating. The CDC recommends working your way up to 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorously intense aerobic activity or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Having said that …
Working out is not an excuse – Lifting weights or hitting the treadmill for an extra 30 minutes does not give you the right to overindulge. A large slice of sugary dessert such as chocolate cake can pack on as much as 800 calories.
Chew gum – Numerous experts suggest gum as a way to prevent constant snacking when there is an abundance of food around.
Take advantage of the down time – Americans have evolved into the habit of eating lunch at their desks or skipping altogether. That leads to other unhealthy nutrition choices.
The off time offered during this season is a chance to get into the practice of eating slower and enjoying food more.
"Studies have shown that while working and eating at the same time your brain never registers fullness, so you think you're still hungry," said Villacorta. "That has a lot to do with pace and timing. If you're going eat a piece of chocolate, really sit down and eat it."
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