17 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
The Holiday Season can be a hard time for those of us who eat clean and exercise as a part of a healthy lifestyle. While recent studies show that holiday weight gain is lower than what we think (on average 1.3 lbs), the bad news is, the more you weigh, the more weight you put on over the holidays. And when that extra pound or two sticks around, in the long run the added weight can lead to serious health issues.
There are a number of reasons why people overeat during this time: social pressures, stress, broken routines, emotional associations with food, holiday season cues to overeat, and the change of season itself! Studies show the decreased hours of sunlight cause changes in your brain—you produce less serotonin (also referred to as the “feel good” hormone) which can cause increased fat and carb cravings.
Some of the things you can do to help prevent holiday weight gain are: plan specifically (set goals and plan treats), eat the right fat (CLA is best), use coping strategies (behavioral such as bring your own dished to holiday gatherings or step away when you feel tempted, and mental such as having a mantra, counting backwards, and using reminders to avoid foods you don’t want to eat), and last but not least, be realistic! If you look forwards to your Aunt Sue’s chocolate cream pie every year, plan on eating it! Just maybe not, like, 3/4 of it?? Plan the foods you really love and enjoy eating into your life.
While the tried and true tips to not gain weight around the holidays still stand true (such as don’t show up to a holiday party hungry!), here are 17 other choices you can make to help yourself out:
- Choose high-fat desserts over high sugar, such as ice cream instead of cake. Eating high fat will satiate you instead of starting a sugar high and crash cycle. Also, sugar is just empty calories while fat has nutritional value.
- Avoid commercials. Studies show seeing or hearing a commercial for holiday food may suddenly create an intense craving. Humans are very susceptible to visual/audio cues (or triggers). Turn off the TV in the background, or limit TV watching in general during this time of year. Pop a holiday movie in instead.
- Share!! Splitting desserts splits your calories. Have a few bites and then pass it along, or cut it in half from the beginning.
- Be active with family. Walk around the neighborhood to see all the lights, play touch football or just catch, play tag—any little thing that you can think of to keep your family active as a group. Start new traditions! Even as little as 10 min a day will make a difference.
- Keep snacks out of sight. I hide things on myself and it works too well sometimes. “Out of sight, out of mind” is super appropriate for me. Make treats hard to get to (top shelf, five rows back, etc) or place on a fridge shelf hidden behind other foods. Make it inconvenient to get to!
- Start meals with a salad. Studies show that starting your meal with a salad will help decrease your overall caloric intake- the key to avoiding weight gain. Watch your salad dressings! Choose full-fat olive oil, no added sugar ones.
- Practice mindful eating. This can be broken down into two things: eating when you are hungry (and conversely NOT eating when you’re not) and avoiding the “taste” added calories. Having “just a taste” of treats during the holiday season can add up to 700 extra calories a day! Be mindful of what you are eating, if you truly want it, and if you are hungry vs. bored. Long-term studies have proven this to be a very effective mechanism.
- Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can skew your hormone levels, causing high carb, high-fat food craving along with weight gain. This is especially true during times of higher stress (such as the holidays).
- Eat more protein and fiber. This means lean protein and veggies/fruit. Both will help keep you full longer. At your family dinner? Pile on that turkey (but limit the gravy) and a side of veg, then add a small dollop of mashed taters.
- Limit liquid calories. While that drink at the beginning of the article looks delish, holiday drinks containing cream or whole milk can be upwards of 300 cal/serving without alcohol. That Starbuck Eggnog latte? Even with skim milk, it has 450 calories and 52 grams of sugar. To put it in perspective, that is more sugar than I eat in 2 days and calorically is about an average small meal for me. In one medium drink. Nope.
- Dish out smaller portions and plan on seconds. While studies show that a smaller plate won’t necessarily mean less intake, smaller portion size will decrease your total consumption! Don’t pile all the food on the first time, eat a smaller amount and then wait a little while before going back for more.
- Avoid all or nothing” thinking. So you had that chocolate cream pie….or 3/4 of it. Don’t let it derail your healthy eating entirely! Overindulging in one treat doesn’t mean all is lost. Dump any guilt or bad feelings and move on from it.
- Exercise in the morning. One of the reasons people stop exercising is they are so busy: holiday parties, gift buying, all the fun things you do might interfere with gym time despite your best intentions. Do 10 min each morning to start your day. This way, if you don’t get to the gym, you have still gotten some heart pumping, high-intensity work in to keep your metabolism and fat burning on track.
- Practice saying NO! Willpower is a muscle, studies show the more you use it the stronger it gets. However, like a muscle it can also get tired! It is harder to say no at the end of a long, stressful day. This is where planning helps- if you know you are going to evening holiday parties, know what you are going to say yes to and what isn’t worth the waste of calories (see below).
- Choose to eat only foods you love. You don’t have to eat everything presented to you, instead, focus on eating treats that you really love or look forward to all year. I like all sweets but I don’t really looove cookies. Instead of trying one of each kind and then still having my favourite desserts, I skip the cookies entirely. They look temping, but I know what I really want.
- Enlist the help of a supportive friend. Knowing that you are not alone in your efforts to stay healthy(ish) around the holidays can be a huge help. Plus, now you are accountable to somebody besides yourself!
- Cook twice, eat once. This is my all-time favourite tip. I have been known to not eat if there is nothing convenient around. Its sad, I know. Cooking twice the amount of food at dinner won’t take twice the time, and now you have a healthy lunch for the next day. Or a snack! Or something to eat before you attend your office holiday party.
Don’t let the holidays weigh you down (or up, in this case!) with the stress around eating healthy. Don’t skip meals, try to remember moderation is the key to everything in life, and above all else focus on being healthy and happy during the holiday season! I am looking forwards to Christmas Eve with my extended family in the city, and then Christmas Day with my parents, siblings, friends, god-kids, and of course, Beaux.
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Stanford Medicine: The science of Willpower
Clemson Extension: Control Holiday Eating