If you've temporarily traded in your gym shoes for shopping shoes, you're not alone. You may not get your heart pumping like you would in a spin class, but there's a silver lining to all that holiday shopping: An hour of walking around stores can burn as much as 275 calories for a person weighing 145 pounds.
In other words, they say "shop 'til you drop" for a reason. But dropping anywhere near the food court can spell trouble for your waistline. Endless samples and fast-food chains leave few healthy options. However, your secret shopping weapon is as far away as your purse. Toss in a few snacks for a "holiday shopping survival pack" that will keep you nourished on the run. And keep these tips in mind to avoid an eating disaster amid your holiday shopping:
• Focus on your goal: If you make a beeline for the food court the second you step inside the mall, you've already surrendered. Make a list of the gifts you need, and focus on completing the list before you focus on food.
If you have time, eat before you shop. Make sure it's something nutritious—high in fiber, low in sugar, and low in sodium—to hold you over for the duration of your shopping spree. I recommend starting your day with low-sugar oatmeal. One of my favorites is made by Arrowhead Mills, because it's low in sugar and salt and gives me the power boost I need to get through my shopping list.
• Bring a smoothie: If you don't have time to eat before you shop, throw a smoothie in your purse. It sounds like a complete mess, but Health Valley makes smoothies that don't have to be refrigerated, so they're a perfect on-the-go snack when munchies strike. I recommend my clients stash one in every purse. This way, a vitamin-rich snack is always available.
• Pack some protein: Just a handful of almonds can go a long way to keep you satisfied. Nosh on this high-protein snack while walking from store to store. Plus, studies show that almonds lower cholesterol and may help you lose weight—an antidote to all the holiday feasting.
• Don't forget fiber: If you've packed your vitamins and your protein, it's time to add some fiber. Spread one packet of almond butter on a high-fiber cracker for a perfect on-the-go lunch. Look for a cracker with more than 3 grams of fiber and about 25 calories per cracker to keep your waistline trim.
• Satisfy your sweet tooth: The delicious smell of cinnamon pretzels and ice cream is tempting, but you can satisfy your sweet tooth without the added calories. A Peppermint Pattie from SunSpire does just that. Many candy bars are filled with sugar alcohols and added sweeteners, but SunSpire uses all-natural ingredients, earning my stamp of snacking approval. Just make sure you freeze the candy bar before tossing it in your purse to prevent a melting mess.
• Forego the fat: If you're in desperate need of a caffeine boost, order your coffee the skinny way. You could also go for a chai tea, but add your own milk, or choose your favorite drink with fat-free milk in the smallest size. You'll get your fix without the fat.
• Stick to salad: If the mall's food court is your only option, head straight to the salad bar. Choose one protein, three veggies, and your favorite low-fat dressing. Steer clear of cheese, bacon, sautéed veggies, and anything fried. You can't go wrong with a grilled chicken Caesar salad; just ask for light balsamic vinaigrette instead of creamy Caesar, and you'll save hundreds of calories. No salad bar in your mall? Look for an entree that's less than 400 calories, because the calories listed on some menus are underestimated by as much as 20 percent.
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Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.