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That advice, surprisingly, doesn’t come from you grandmother but from more dieticians and nutritionists who are actually helping people to maintain healthy weights. Yes, in addition to the usual roll-out of “How to Slim-down Your Thanksgiving” and tips on how to avoid packing on the pounds, some health experts are advising that we go a little easier on ourselves over the holidays. They’re certainly not recommending that you scarf up everything you see, but the key to keeping cravings and temptations in check may be to give in to some — in moderation.
That advice is based on some solid research. Studies show, for example, that when you put certain foods on a do-not-eat list, people end up wanting, and eating them more, and actually gaining weight. A 2012 study by researchers at Tel Aviv University found that dieters who ate a pastry every day lost more weight than dieters who avoided them completely. While both groups of dieters were on a low-calorie diet, the pastry group ate a cookie, slice of cake, doughnut or piece of chocolate every morning. Although by the end of the 16 week study, both groups had lost an average of 33 lbs, the group who treated themselves to dessert every morning went on to lose another 15 lbs on average, and reported feeling less hunger and cravings during that time. And researchers from the University of British Columbia reported that when people are told certain foods or objects are forbidden, the brain concentrates on them more than usual.
Other studies in mice have found that when the animals were only enticed with the occasional bit of sugar, then deprived of it, they were more likely to overindulge in sugar once it was brought back into their diet.
“Holiday asceticism makes no sense, because it ruins the holiday and is too little, too late anyway,” says Dr. David Katz, the director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and author of the new book Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well. Watching everyone else dig into the feast is going to be tough if you insist on sitting it out. “The problem is when we deprive ourselves of foods that we love, it makes us want them more. Then, when we finally do have them, we overeat them. We lose the ability to control how much we eat of those foods,” says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.

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