Your Guide to Holiday Portions

Use these simple portion-control tricks to keep your diet in check and fend off weight gain this holiday season

November 16, 2011
thanksgiving dinner plate
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Between family dinners and round-the-clock parties, it's easy to overdo it during the holidays--but you don't have to resign yourself to wearing elastic-waist pants at the dinner table. We asked celebrity nutritionist Robert Reames, CNC, a member of the Gold's Gym Fitness Institute, and Nancy Clark, RD, a sports nutritionist based in West Newton, MA, for strategies to help control consumption this season. Don't worry, you can still eat your favorite foods--the trick is to keep portions in check. (Search: What are the most popular holiday foods?) These smart strategies will help you eyeball appropriate servings of holiday mainstays like candied yams, pumpkin pie, and prime rib so you can enjoy all the flavors of the season.

Read on for your holiday portion-control guide.

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mashed potatoes
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1. Mashed potatoes

Serving size: 1/2 cup

Picture it:
One serving is about the size of half a tennis ball.

119 calories, 4.4 g fat, and 17.8 g carbs (Bonus: Discover dozens of delicious recipes--all under 400 calories!)

Tip: A heaping helping is typically double a proper portion. If you go back for seconds, you could easily down almost 500 calories without even slicing into the turkey.

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2. Turkey

Serving size: 3 to 4 ounces

Picture it: One serving is roughly the size of a deck of cards.

Nutrition: 4 ounces white skinless meat:153 calories, 0.8 g fat, and 34 g protein

Tip: Avoid skin and gravy to keep this protein-packed poultry a guilt-free holiday indulgence.

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3. Stuffing

Serving size: 1/2 cup

Picture it: One serving is roughly half the size of a baseball.

Nutrition: About 175 calories, 22 g carbs, and 550 mg sodium

Tip: To reduce fat and sodium, use low-sodium broth and cut the amount of butter in half. Reduce the carb count by loading your dressing with celery, mushrooms, apples, or other chopped vegetables and cut down on the bread.

Search: How do you make stuffing healthier?

candied yams
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4. Candied yams

Serving size: 1/4 cup

Picture it: One serving is about the size of a Ping-Pong ball.

Nutrition: 105 calories, 26 g carbs, 19 g sugar, and 0.5 g fiber

Tip: Even with this small serving you'll take in 26 g carbs and 19 g sugar, both hefty amounts for one dish.

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green bean casserole
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5. Green bean casserole

Serving size: 1/2 cup

Picture it: That's approximately the size of half a tennis ball.

Nutrition: 75 calories, 0.5 g fat, and 11 g carbs

Tip: "Go easy on the fried onion sprinkles," says Clark. Two tablespoons of these contain about 45 calories and 3.5 g fat. If your recipe calls for canned soup, use a low-sodium option. Better yet, serve steamed green beans instead.

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pumpkin pie
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6. Pumpkin pie

Serving size: 1/8 of a 9-inch pie

Picture it: Make an L with your thumb and index finger. That's about the size of one slice.

316 calories, 14.4 g fat (4.9 g sat), 40.9 g carbs, and 21.4 g sugar

Tip: Cut the pie in 8 equally sized slices before you bring it to the table. That way, to overeat you'd have to go back for seconds, says Reames.

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prime rib
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7. Prime rib

Serving size: 3 to 4 ounces

Picture it: That's roughly the size of the palm of your hand.

Nutrition: 284 calories, 22.4 g fat (8.8 g sat), and 18 g protein

Tip: It's not uncommon for people to eat up to 20 ounces in a serving, says Reames. Do that and you'll be taking in more than 1,000 calories, which is a third or more of your total daily allotment. Eat slowly to prevent overdoing it.

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cranberry sauce
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8. Cranberry sauce

Serving size: 1/4 cup

Picture it: A serving is about 4 tablespoons.

Nutrition: Canned, sweetened sauce:104.5 calories, 27 g carbs, and 26.25 g sugar

Tip: Overdo it with a full cup of cranberry sauce and all that sugar will spike your insulin like crazy, promoting major fat storage, specifically in your belly, Reames says.

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9. Eggnog

Serving size: 4 ounces

Picture it: It would fill a third of a 12-ounce beer can

Nutrition: 172 calories, 9.5 g fat (5.7 g sat), 17.2 g carbs, and 10.7 g sugar

Tip: "Eggnog is so high in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat, so try to drink just half a typical glass," Reams said. Drink a whole cup and you're drinking the sugar equivalent of three sugar cookies.

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sugar cookies
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10. Sugar cookie

Serving size: 1 cookie

Picture it: A cookie should be about the size of the lid on a standard food can.

Nutrition: 72 calories, 3.2 g fat, 10 g carbs, and 6 g sugar

Tip: "Cookies, chips, candies--all these are hunger drivers. Having one makes you want another, and another," Reames says. "Take advantage of the fact that they're already portion controlled and stick with one cookie for a holiday treat."

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11. Champagne

Serving size: 4 ounces

Picture it: A typical Champagne flute holds 6 ounces, therefore it should be about two-thirds full.

Nutrition: 91 calories, 1.2 g carbs

Tip: The biggest issue here is that the alcohol clouds judgment and reduces inhibition, which increases food cravings, Reames says. According to a U.K. study, men who drank an ale that contained the equivalent of two alcoholic drinks ate 30% more calories later compared with men who drank a nonalcoholic ale--even though they didn't report higher hunger levels than the other group. Save the bubbly for the midnight toast only and you'll be more likely to keep food consumption in check.

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