With the holiday shopping season upon us, hectic schedules, erratic meals and stress can make it hard to resist the many temptations of the food court.
If you're trying to maintain your weight this holiday season instead of adding the usual 6 unwanted pounds, eat-and-run tactics at the mall could sabotage your efforts.
Some food court "snacks" pack enough calories for all three daily meals and as much fat as a 12-ounce sirloin steak.
"People think that they will just have a bite that will tide them over until dinner," said Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Washington-based consumer group that regularly evaluates fast-food establishments and restaurants. "What they don't realize is that this is dinner."
Of course, with a little planning, it's possible to have your Mrs. Fields cookies and eat them, too without being betrayed by your scale. There are also ample opportunities to squeeze in extra exercise while you shop.
Suit up. Choose shoes made for hoofing it up and down escalators and stairs. Ten minutes of stair-climbing OK, it probably won't happen in one fell swoop, but those minutes add up burn 79 calories for someone who weighs 125 pounds, according to the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. The more you weigh, the more you'll burn.
Think satellite parking. Don't waste time fighting over the closest spaces. Pick a faraway spot and applaud yourself for walking the distance. During the holidays, George Blackburn, associate professor of surgery and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, adds 1,000 steps a day (counted on his pedometer) to his usual 10,000 to help compensate for upward caloric drift.
Speed-walking through the mall at the pace you'd use to race to a store just before it closes can burn as many as 2.4 calories per hour per pound of body weight. That works out to 360 calories an hour for someone who weighs 150 pounds. (If you're just moseying along, figure on half the calories or less.)
Choose wisely at the food court. Just because you're tired and famished, don't fall for the easy fix. Scan the territory and go for the veggies the more the better. Salads, soups and stir-fried foods are generally wise options. "Just stay away from the deep-fried foods, like orange chicken or crispy beef," Hurley says. A survey of Chinese food found that an order of crispy beef with steamed rice had more calories than four Quarter Pounders. Better choices: Any entree that isn't fried, plus steamed rice. "If you do that, you can keep to about 400 calories," Hurley says.
Keep a wary eye on portions. They're not just big, they're humongous. One slice of Sbarro's sausage-and-pepper-stuffed pizza contains 961 calories and 47 grams of fat, including 19 grams of saturated fat. Sbarro's baked ziti will set you back 928 calories, including 42 grams of fat (although only 2 are saturated) and its meat lasagna carries 824 calories including 41 grams of fat, 22 of them saturated. If you can't resist these dishes, share them with at least one person, possibly two.
Don't assume because it's liquid and caffeinated that it's low in calories. Case in point: Starbucks' white mocha cappuccino with whole milk and whipped cream. A grande contains 370 calories, including 21 grams of fat.