One of the best—and worst—things about the Yuletide season is the food. You spend months looking forward to extravagant spreads, seasonal treats, and delectable finger foods. Then, you spend months trying to work them off. Every year, it seems, you end up munching and sipping long after you should have stopped…and your bloated belly tells the tale. Fortunately, you can avoid the holiday food hangover (and actual hangovers) over the coming weeks—and the popular For Dummies® series is here to help.
“No one is claiming the holidays are a time to embark full force on a weight loss plan, but neither do you want to show up in your cute party dress with a bloated belly,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, coauthor along with Tara Gidus and Kristina LaRue of Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies® (Wiley, October 2013, ISBN: 978-1-118-69266-0, $22.99). “There is a balance between enjoying the season and overindulging—and it begins with a working knowledge of foods and drinks that are and aren’t waistline-friendly.”
Some foods and drinks can bloat your belly almost instantly by increasing gas in your digestive tract, causing your abdomen to look distended. This condition can be uncomfortable, but the good news is it’s only temporary.
“When you have an event coming up where you want your midsection to look as slim as possible, such as a holiday cocktail party, it’s usually best to avoid these foods for a few days beforehand,” says Gidus. “Keep reminding yourself how great you’re going to look in that little black dress—for most people, vanity combined with a short-term deadline is more powerful than textbooks full of information on how to achieve long-term health!”
Other foods may contain ingredients such as saturated fats and refined carbohydrates that can pack on the pounds and cause your body to accumulate belly fat, gradually expanding your waistline over time. While you probably won’t gain a large amount of weight over one holiday season (the average amount is, surprisingly, only one pound), for most Americans, that pound sticks around—and that’s where the problems start.
“When you indulge in sausage balls, fried latkes, sweet-potato-and-marshmallow casserole, fudge, eggnog, or whatever your treat of choice might be, you’re taking in calories, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and more that contribute negatively to your long-term health,” comments LaRue. “The cumulative effect can be serious, so it’s smart to limit these types of food—or avoid them altogether if you’re the super-high-willpower type.”
In Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies®, Palinski-Wade, Gidus, and LaRue (all of whom are recognized nutrition experts) share everything you need to know to shed fat and tone your midsection. However, if you have time for only a crash course before facing off with an array of tempting holiday choices, read on to learn about seven of the biggest belly bloaters and where they’re found:
Belly Bloater # 1: Sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are sugar substitutes that are only partially digested in your body. Because of this, they provide fewer calories per gram than regular sugar. They can also cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects such as bloat, gas, and diarrhea, all of which can cause your belly to look and feel distended—and which can put a major cramp in your holiday style.
“You’ll find sugar alcohol mostly in sugar-free snacks, gums, and candies,” says Palinski-Wade. “If you see ingredients such as xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol, you’ve found sugar alcohol—and you should probably move on to another choice.”
Belly Bloater # 2: High-sodium foods. Salt may not stand out as a belly bloater because it’s calorie free. But excess sodium causes your body to hold onto water weight, which leaves you feeling bloated and makes it hard to have a flat, toned midsection.
“Excessive sodium intake can do more damage than just making you look bloated, though,” notes LaRue. “In addition to the negative impact sodium has on your waistline, it can also increase blood pressure and stiffen arteries. For that reason, you should aim to keep your daily sodium intake under 2,000 mg (or under 1,500 mg per day if you have high blood pressure). So when you’re preparing your plate at the holiday office party, it may be okay to allow yourself a few bites of high-sodium hors d’oeuvres, but pile your plate up with offerings from the fruit and veggie tray so you can fill up on this healthier fare.”
Belly Bloater # 3: Refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs are everywhere you look—they’re found in white rice, white pasta, sugary cereals, enriched-flour crackers, and much more. These grains have been processed and stripped of the outermost and innermost layers of grain, leaving all the carbohydrates and calories, but little of the protein, fiber, and nutrients. While this type of processing allows grains to be digested rapidly, they provide little in the way of fullness after eating. In addition, their rapid digestion leads to spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, causing additional fat storage right where you want it least—your belly!
“Enjoy grains, but choose whole grains instead,” recommends Palinski-Wade. “Reach for brown rice over white rice, whole wheat pasta over white, and popcorn over snack chips. With a few simple changes to your grain selection, you can reduce cravings and hunger while avoiding the belly fat-storing insulin spikes that accompany refined grains.”
Belly Bloater # 4: Processed meats. Meats such as bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are high in sodium and saturated fats. Because sodium causes your body to retain excess water, this alone can bloat your belly. But combine that with a high intake of inflammation-promoting saturated fat, and you have a recipe for excess belly fat.
“Limit processed meats to special occasions and occasional treats to prevent a negative impact on your health and your belly,” Gidus suggests. “And yes, I know that’s more difficult than usual over the holidays—but not impossible. Look for lower-fat options made with turkey or chicken breast over beef and pork varieties. But keep in mind that these lower-fat options typically contain just as much sodium as the original options, so don’t overdo it!”
Belly Bloater # 5: Carbonated beverages. Carbonation is mostly just water, and it’s typically calorie free, so it seems innocent enough—especially when you’re not even consuming it in a soda!—but it can really bloat your belly.
“Because the carbonation comes from gas blended with water, when you drink a carbonated beverage, the gas can ‘puff out’ your stomach, making it appear distended and bigger than it really is,” explains Gidus. “This puffiness will last for only a few hours, but even so, avoid carbonated drinks on days when you want to look your slimmest.”
Belly Bloater # 6: Soda. Although this popular beverage is a staple in most restaurants and homes (and at most holiday parties), it’s a big belly bloater. For one thing, soda contains gas-producing carbonation. Even more potent is its main ingredient, sugar, making it a rich source of empty calories that don’t provide any fullness. And finally, soda sparks a spike in blood sugar, which is followed by an insulin spike, leading to excessive belly fat storage.
“Diet soda isn’t the solution,” warns LaRue. “In addition to including temporarily bloating carbonation, diet sodas are loaded with artificial sweeteners, which are a foreign chemical to your body. If you take in too much of an artificial ingredient, it may increase inflammation, which stores fat. In addition, some studies have linked diet soda with an increase in hunger and cravings, which can make staying on track with your meal plan a challenge.”
Belly Bloater # 7: Alcohol. Since alcohol is a source of empty calories and can actually increase your appetite, it can be a major source of weight gain and increased belly fat when consumed in excess. “You don’t need to eliminate alcohol over the holidays; just keep an eye on the quantity you consume,” says Palinski-Wade.
In addition to limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, she suggests that you follow these simple guidelines:
• Your best choice for alcohol is red or white wine, a wine spritzer, or light beer. Some alcohol can have health benefits. Red wine, for instance, is a great source of resveratrol, which has anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial to heart health.
• If you have a mixed drink, avoid high-calorie mixers such as soda. Instead, try mixing your drink with club soda or seltzer with a splash of juice for flavor.
• Drink alcohol at the end of the meal instead of before eating. Alcohol can stimulate appetite and lower inhibitions, resulting in your making less healthy food choices or eating larger portions.
“When it comes to staying healthy over the holidays, forewarned is forearmed,” concludes Gidus. “Before walking into a situation where you know there will be food, review your goals and strategies.”
“If you reaffirm your intention to feel your best while avoiding belly bloat, you’ll find it easier to tap into the resolve you need,” adds LaRue. “And you’ll also find it easier to fit confidently into your most flattering holiday clothes.”
About the Authors:
Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, is the coauthor of Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies®. She is the owner of a private nutrition practice and is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker, and fitness expert who regularly contributes to various national news streams.
Tara Gidus, RD, is the coauthor of Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies®. She is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness. Her blog and website, dietdiva.net, offers advice on making healthy choices.
About the Book:
Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies® (Wiley, October 2013, ISBN: 978-1-118-69266-0, $22.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974. For more information, please visit the book’s page at www.wiley.com.