Mary Lee Bartlett is a community volunteer. She has served on the boards of many area non-profits, including Monroe Harding, St. Luke’s Community House, the Martha O’Bryan Center and Brentwood Academy. She has also served as chairman of the boards of: the Junior League of Nashville, Friends of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee, Maryland Farms YMCA, the Nashville Humane Association, the United Way of Williamson County’s Patricia Hart Society, Kappa Alpha Theta Alumnae and First Presbyterian Women’s group. Mary Lee has been employed as a Weight Watchers leader since 2006, inspiring people to be their healthiest. Mary Lee and her husband, Steve, are the parents of two daughters and one canine child.

Q. I want to eat healthy at a party. Help! What can I eat?

A: Healthy eating is possible this time of year, but it takes knowledge and planning. Before you go to the party, practice mental rehearsing. Think through all possible food scenarios that might happen at the party (veggies and dip as an option; cakes and cookies only; cheesy, mayonnaise options only, etc.), then mentally rehearse how you’ll behave. Are you going to eat only if there are fruits and veggies available or are you going to eat whatever you want? Are you going to try a tiny bit of everything, so that you don’t feel deprived or are you going to have large portions of everything? Are you going to eat only treats that are out-of-the-ordinary, home-made ones or are you going to fill up on crackers, cheese, chips and other snacks that you can buy any old day at the store? Are you going to have one plate and that is all or will you re-load your plate again and again? Almost always, your actions will reflect what you mentally rehearsed. So plan ahead to succeed. And then stick to that plan!

Do not go to the party on an empty stomach! Have a small snack (string cheese, 14 almonds, an apple) and some water before you leave. This will keep you from gorging when you finally see the spread of goodies. When you arrive at a party, scan the food table. If you can find vegetables and dip, that is your best bet for a healthy snack (heavy on the veggies, light on the dip!). As a general rule, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins (pork or beef tenderloin without a roll and without sauce) are your best choices. And remember that there’s a fine line between thirst and hunger. So ask yourself before you eat, “Am I really hungry?” It may be that you’re just thirsty and a glass of water will do the trick. After you have the water and you’re drawn again to the food table, think before you eat, and ask yourself again, “Am I really hungry?” If the answer is, “No, not really….” then figure out what you can do instead of eating. Focus on having a great conversation with your co-worker’s spouse. Look around and notice all the great holiday decorations where you are. If you’re eating because you’re bored or tired, consider slipping out of the party and going home. Remember, if hunger is not the problem, then food is not the solution.

Along with tempting foods, another thing that is common at holiday parties is alcohol. Alcohol loosens our inhibitions, so it can also loosen our resolve to make healthy eating choices. If you choose to imbibe, consider alternating one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have. Or you might have a wine spritzer instead of straight wine. Ask the bartender or your host to measure 4 ounces of wine (most glasses hold quite a bit more than a 4 ounce serving). Light beer is a lower-calorie choice than regular beer. Avoid drinks that have a syrup/sugar base, such as Margaritas and daiquiris. Volunteer to be the “designated driver” for your friends. That way, you save on calories and your friends remain safe. And if, by chance, you make choices that aren’t the healthiest, do not give up! Get back up and try again the next day!

Q. I eat out a lot and I am gaining weight how can I reverse this?

A: Dining out is definitely a challenge to weight loss success. If possible, go on-line prior to visiting a restaurant and look up the nutritional information for several menu items. Decide what you’re going to have and then stick with it! Look for lower-calorie, high-fiber foods. Go for foods that are going to fill you up and keep you fuller, longer, such as proteins (meats and beans) and fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water, which will give you the sensation of being full, so you’ll be more likely to order small portions. Notice how the foods are prepared. Avoid foods that have words such as, “creamy”, “au gratin”, “fried”, “smothered”, “buffalo”, “battered”, etc. Instead, opt for words such as, “baked”, “grilled”, “steamed” and “broiled”. Soups that are broth-based (not cream-based) are usually a healthy choice, plus they take time to eat, so you will be forced to eat slowly. Salads are also a good choice, but steer clear of cheeses and creamy dressings and ask for the dressing on the side. Dip your fork in the dressing, then spear the salad. That gives you just enough dressing for flavor, without all the extra calories. Avoid the “freebies” that often come with a meal, such as chips and salsa, bread and butter or peanuts. Pay attention to portion sizes. Most restaurants offer servings that are 2-3 times the size of a recommended serving. Ask for a “to-go” box at the beginning of your meal and place at least half of the meal in the box to enjoy tomorrow. (And no peeking or nibbling on the food in the box until the next meal!) And as for alcohol, the average “pour” at a restaurant is at least 6 ounces, while a serving of wine is 4 ounces. Same goes for mixed drinks ~ the alcohol often exceeds a serving size. It’s best to order a drink in a bottle (like a light beer) because then you know exactly the amount you are consuming.

Don’t be afraid to ask your server for assistance. Most of them are happy to not bring you bread, to leave off the fries or substitute something healthy instead of the mac & cheese, and to cook items the way you request them. For example, many steak places dredge their filets in butter to give them added flavor. Ask your waiter to be sure your filet is meat only, no butter. They are usually happy to oblige. Remember to tip well if the waiter helps you out. Plus, it’s the holidays! Good will towards waiters!

Q. I am hosting a party and want good fun and healthy foods. What can I serve?

A: Your friends will love you for having a healthy party! And the great news is that there are LOTS of healthy, tasty, festive foods! Go on-line and type in, “Healthy Recipes” and see the huge number of ideas you will receive! One of my favorite sites is Hungry Girl often has “classic” recipes that have been given a healthy make-over (Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, for example. They even have a “Skinny Margarita” recipe!). Make veggies, fruits and lean proteins the stars of your party. Edamame is both a vegetable and high in protein…and there are many ways to make it “your own” signature dish with seasonings and spices. There are condiments, such as capers, horseradish, herbs, hot sauce, vinegar, mustard, sugar substitutes, that make dishes flavorful without being calorie-full! Experiment before your party to find the combinations you like best. Baked kale and sweet potato chips are both healthy alternatives to potato chips. Visit stores such as Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for quick and easy healthy options. Check the labels for nutrition information!

Parties are fun and the food is certainly important, but focusing on the people (friends, family, co-workers) is the main reason for the party. Think of games or activities that people would enjoy instead of just standing around eating. Did you get a Wii last Christmas? Challenge each other to a Wii tennis match or Guitar Hero. Do you have carolers in your neighborhood? No? Well, instead of eating, wander from house to house, serenading your neighbors with holiday cheer. Is there a craft you enjoy? Your friends will probably enjoy it, too. Give everyone the supplies they need to create that craft ~ maybe a gingerbread house (no eating the candy decorations!) or a popsicle-stick ornament. It’ll keep their hands busy so they can’t eat, but it will evoke lots of conversation and laughter, not to mention lasting memories.

Have a question for our expert? This line is open until Friday, December 9th. Our expert will then answer the top questions and we’ll post their answers right here and on our Facebook page.