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It's the holiday season, that stretch of celebratory feeding ushered in with the first images of the pardoned turkey on the White House lawn and escorted out with the grease-filled, morning-after brunch on Jan. 1. It's no wonder Americans are most likely to gain weight this time of year. Fortunately, nutritionist/dietician Danielle Paciera (889-8771) has some sensible strategies for enjoying the season without overindulging.

Q: How can we make it through holiday season without packing on pounds?

A: One of the biggest things I try to get people to do is think about what they're eating and why they're eating it. We go to parties and socialize, and we end up grabbing and eating mindlessly. One of the tips I give people is stop to think and realize what they're doing. There's more food than we can consume, more calories than we need.

The second part is being a little more prepared. If you're out all day taking care of things, the worst thing to do is not have food or not have lunch. Your body gets very hungry. ... Then we give our bodies more than they can handle. Space it out through the day.

Q: So don't try to save up for the big party in the evening?

A: People who try to save up their calories typically consume more calories at the end of the day. Our bodies and brains are very sensitive to deprivation. ... It can lead to a mini- or full-blown binge. You go to a party, you haven't eaten all day, your body's really hungry. Then you have a drink. Your inhibitions are lower, your appetite is revved up and you're not thinking about what you're eating.

Q: How much does alcohol play into seasonal weight gain?

A: Two or three drinks a night, that alone would add up to one pound of weight gained by the end of a month.

Q: What are some specific strategies to avoid mindless snacking this time of year?

A: Don't socialize next to the food table is a really good one. Another big thing is putting everything we eat on a plate. It helps to see what we're eating. When we can't visualize, we tend to eat a little bit more. I tell people to look at the food. Prioritize. Decide what it is that we actually want.

Use small plates and small bowls. There's a researcher, Brian Wansink, he's done a lot of research into overeating. He's found people will serve themselves more if they have bigger plates and bigger bowls. If we have more food in front of us, we tend to eat more.

If there's a buffet, put everything you're going to eat at the party on your plate at once. This is part of seeing it. Take smaller portions of calorie-dense foods and larger portions of less calorie-dense foods. A small piece of brie on fruit and a big serving of salad.

Q: Is there anything we can do as hosts to help guests eat smart?

A: Use smaller plates and bowls. Don't bother putting out little munchies, there's going to be enough food. There's a lot of ways to make healthier dishes that are delicious. Roasted veggies with a roasted red pepper dip — that's a lot better than the traditional broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, ranch dressing plate. I'm a firm believer that we should enjoy foods. There's a lot of special holiday foods that people look forward to. We shouldn't do away with them, it's just about balance.

Also, people tend to want to give food gifts. I'm not such a fan of the food gift. We can give trees, we can give plants, we can give donations in someone's name — it doesn't have to be brownies and cookies. You can certainly set a good example by offering to bring a healthy dish.

Q: And if we find ourselves a little heavier by the end of holiday season, how do we get back on track?

A: One of the things I tell people if they want to cut weight fast is lay off the alcohol for a month. We have a nice month where we lay off celebrations before the parades start again.

Really sit down, write a good grocery list, keep good food in stock. If you don't have healthy foods around, how do you expect to eat healthy? The first step is knowing what to get at the grocery store. Have a plan. For dinners, make enough to bring leftovers for lunches. I tell a lot of my clients to take one afternoon and make several meals in advance. Try to prepare a couple of dishes ahead of time.

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