Operation Calorie Control

Know where empty calories are hiding during the holidays

When mall security specialist Paul Blart (Kevin James) grabs a funny looking fork that vibrates in the movie Mall Cop 2, it’s clear it hasn’t done its job. It’s supposed to remind him to chew his food, eat slower, and in theory, consume fewer calories. Hey, nobody’s perfect. It can take time to shake off old eating habits for healthier ones.

Regardless of your weight, just about everyone can expect a Mall-Cop-style showdown with food during the holidays. Do you think you can handle it? You mission, should you choose to accept it, is Operation Calorie Control: Know where empty calories are hiding during the holidays.

Go ahead and make fun of the vibrating fork. But the truth is, mindful eating really does make a difference. Especially during the holidays when alcohol and sugary drinks practically flow from faucets at parties, decadent desserts make their appearance at every meal, and friends keep showing up with some holiday cheer and plates of cookies.

If you want to avoid holiday weight gain, see results from your exercise efforts, and tip the scale in the right direction, beware of foods that can sabotage your good intentions. Here’s what to watch for:


You’re at a restaurant wrapping up your meal when the server asks if you want dessert. If you’re not careful, just glancing at a menu with desserts like Chocolate Mountain, Mega Mousse, or an Everest-sized serving of ice cream or cheesecake, can practically cause you to gain weight. Dessert at a friend’s house is no different. One dessert could easily blow your eating plan with 500-plus calories.

Forget about totally restricting desserts during the holidays. It’s a recipe for binging when your craving for something sweet becomes stronger than your mental toughness. Instead of eating the whole thing, split dessert with someone else. Order a mini-sized dessert from the kid’s menu. Or go for a healthier option like fruit with a little whipped cream.


It’s no secret that soda, energy drinks, and sugar-sweetened beverages are loaded with sugar and empty calories. In fact, the average American gulps down 53 gallons of these kinds of drinks every year. No wonder so many people are overweight and diabetes is on the rise. But soda isn’t the only drink of choice to avoid during the holidays. Alcoholic drinks can blow your goal to control calories. And drinks like milkshakes and specialty coffees made with whole milk and whipped cream can top 1,000 calories.

If you’re serious about watching your weight and keeping calories in check during the holidays, drink more water. Drink less of everything else. It’s really that simple. Have a glass of water before you start eating. Drink another glass during your meal. And keep water on hand to drink throughout the day. It’s calorie-free, and your body needs it a lot more than some booze at a cocktail party.


Snacks and sweets are hard to avoid during the holidays. Every store hands out samples. Office parties and family gatherings usually have a huge spread of chips, cookies, pastries, and other sweet treats to choose from. And if you go to a movie, a popular tradition for many people during the holidays, your brain somehow things you need to munch your way through the movie with a pack of licorice and chocolates.

A few snacks and sweets aren’t going to be a deal-breaker the next time you step on the scale. But without a little self-control, snacks and sweets can quickly take down your plans to eat healthy. For example, a single candy bar contains about 250 calories. One average-sized donut: 250 calories. And one bag of movie-theater popcorn with butter can hit 1,000 calories.

To avoid the calorie carnage that snacks and sweets can cause, you need a plan. Bring a healthy snack to the office party or family dinner. Instead of polishing off a bag of chips, have healthier snacks like vegetables with hummus, fruit, whole-grain crackers, low-fat yogurt. Or a Quest Bar, a favorite of our personal trainers and many of our clients.


Last but not least, beware of portion sizes. You don’t have to look far to find a supersized version of just about any meal, snack or dessert. You need to eat, but most people eat too much. At a typical holiday dinner, many people eat more than 3,000 calories in one sitting, which is more calories than most people need in a day.

Practice portion control. When you order at a restaurant, ask for a to-go-box to go with your meal. When the food arrives, put half of in the box for later. Or split an entrée with someone else. If you’re inclined to overeat at home, skip the dinner plate and dish up with a salad plate. This will help you eat smaller portions, and you’ll be less likely to go over on calories, even if have a little extra and go back for seconds.

Empty calories are everywhere during the holidays. But they don’t have to derail your plans to eat healthy, lose weight or maintain your weight, and sabotage your exercise efforts. Take Operation Calorie Control seriously, and you’ll start the New Year out right.

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