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Health Check: Mistakes that could add to your waistline during the holidays

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) -- On average, Americans consume 4,500 calories at a holiday gathering, according to the Calorie Control Council.

Livestrong.com shines the light on some things that rack up those calories and the mistakes you make that could make you gain weight. They also offer advice on how to change dishes to make them healthier.

First mistake? Abusing the party attitude.

Holiday cheer is wonderful, but it can disrupt portion control. "Many people rationalize splurging on treats during the holiday season by convincing themselves that it's OK because it's a special occasion," said Jenny Giblin, a psychotherapist and nutrition coach in Hawaii and New York to Livestrong.

For example, a slice of pecan pie can add 500 calories. Giblin suggests avoiding the tendency to turn one feast into a month-long party.

Mistake two? Using big plates.

Standard dinner plate sizes have gradually increased over the past one thousand years, according to a 2010 International Journal of Obesity report. "Try only taking three items at a time and make sure that you can still see your plate under the food," Gibli said.

Third? Sitting or standing too close to food.

It's easy to keep sneaking a taste if there isn't a lot of distance between you and the food.

And a 2011 study of 464 college students, published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, showed that sitting near desserts increases the size and quantity of diners' sweets choices. Try to load your plate with vegetables and lean proteins first before eating carbs and sweets.

Fourth? Failing to fill up with fiber.

It helps you digest and keeps you filled up so you aren't as tempted to eat the extra goodies. To shift the fiber equation in your favor, aim for the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

For more fiber at your holiday meal, serve baked sweet potatoes instead of conventional mashed potatoes, and swap out white rolls for 100 percent whole-grain bread. Cooked greens, whole-grain stuffing, beans and lentils are also fiber-rich.

Fifth? Turn a blind eye to butter.

The average person could consume the fat equivalent of three sticks of butter at a holiday feast, says the Calorie Control Council. Adding a tablespoon of butter to your mashed potatoes or dinner roll, both of which likely already contain butter, adds more than 200 calories, according to Livestrong.com.

"Prioritize what you truly love to eat and skip what you don’t love," said Minh-Hai Alex, a registered dietitian in Seattle.

Six? Believing that any dish with fruits and veggies is healthy.

Many seemingly nutritious foods can increase your calorie intake significantly. One prime example? Cranberry sides, says Carina Sohaili, a certified nutrition counselor and founder of Vibrant Healthy Life in Los Angeles. "Most cranberry sides are packed with excessive sugars and fake ingredients."

When possible, choose fresh or frozen (no sugar added) fruits and veggies over canned varieties.

Seven? Covering your food in gravy or sauces.

Depending on the ingredients, turkey gravy provides 30 to 100 calories per serving. Cheese sauces can contain up to 100 calories per quarter-cup, taking the calorie content of healthy fare, such as fresh veggie sticks and apple slices, from light to lofty.

It's better to dip foods into sauces than to pour the sauces over the top, said Livestrong. And to reduce the richness of gravy, refrigerate it and then skim the solidified fat off the top.

Eight? Adding toppings.

Sweet toppings can add ample calories and virtually no nutrients to holiday dishes. "The marshmallows on top of those yams or the whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie are killer," says nutrition counselor Carina Sohaili. Two tablespoons of marshmallow cream adds another 40 calories to yams.

Real, whole foods taste just as good without all of the excessive toppings. If you must have your sweet, creamy topping, use modest amounts.

Nine? Eating light and feasting on dessert.

One slice of pecan pie, for example, supplies more than 500 calories. A scoop of ice cream and a dollop of whipped topping can bring that pie slice up to about 700 calories. Apple pie contains more than 250 calories per slice, and pumpkin pie has around 325 calories.

Trimming your dessert sizes to half-slices or taking bite-sized nibbles of a few options can help keep your caloric intake more reasonable.

10? All-or-nothing thinking.

The all-or-nothing mindset of dieting itself may pose greater risks, says Minh-Hai Alex, RD. "Ironically, dieters are at higher risk for getting painfully stuffed during holiday celebrations because the diet mentality increases the risk of all-or-nothing thinking."

In some cases, overeating becomes a form of self-punishment for poor eating and prompts desires to starve afterward, triggering a cycle of overeating, under-eating and eventual weight gain.

11? Overdoing the drinking.

In addition to providing less satiation and similar amounts of calories as food, sugary drinks, including eggnog, cocktails and juices, can offset your blood sugar and appetite control. A White Russian drink can add 500 calories and eggnog, 300 calories.

Giblin said alcohol can make overeating a near given, because it inhibits your ability to remain conscientious about your food intake.

12? Stressing too much.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to overeating and weight gain during the holidays and throughout the season. You may also crave calorie-rich foods because they bring emotional comfort and trigger the release of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain.

According to Minh-Hai Tran, RD, instead of stressing over calories, you should amp up self-care. "Relaxation and decreasing stress can help support digestion and make it easier to connect with your body’s internal cues to support more attuned eating," she says.

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