10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

What is it about holidays or holiday food that makes us want to gorge? And not just once, but every time there is a holiday gathering or party, we end up uncontrollably eating and/or drinking all the goodies in sight. It's hard to stop! But it's easy to rationalize "I deserve a treat. Everybody is doing it. I'll be good next month."

On top of that we're treated with things we don't get year round and have missed like egg nog, pecan pie or all kinds of rugelach and (of course) we can't say no--they're limited time holiday treats! Come January our merriment is all too often followed by feelings of remorse and guilt. "Ugh, why did I eat so much ALL THOSE TIMES?" The good news is, the holiday season doesn't have to mean automatic weight gain for us. Plus keeping the weight off now will be so much easier than having to take it off come the new year. Along with the right mindset, these tips and tricks will help keep our waistlines in check this holiday season. (Think of it like making one important New Year's resolution a couple months early -- or late, depending how you look at it:).

1. Have a "pre-feast" shake to control your hunger pangs.

Have you ever gone shopping while you were hungry and found yourself tossing way more food into your cart than you planned? What’s more—it’s not bananas or broccoli—it’s chips and doughnuts! Hunger can make you impulsive with your meal choices. In the same manner, don’t arrive hungry to your next holiday gathering. PLAN AHEAD. Have a protein rich snack (like nuts, yogurt or chia pudding), or a protein shake with at least 15g protein before heading out to your party. Even better, pack a snack or bar to go, just in case mealtime takes a bit longer than expected. With a pre-satisfied tummy, you'll be less likely to eat impulsively, which can often lead to overeating.

2. Feast mindfully.

When you're finally sitting down to enjoy your holiday feast--put down the cellphone, or table--turn off the TV. Seriously. Distractions very often lead to overeating. Focus on your food for that moment. Take time to truly savor and enjoy every bite (as if it was your last!). Especially since you're probably allowing yourself some foods you wouldn’t normally eat. If it helps, put your silverware down between bites and take your time to chew. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is truly full. By eating mindfully (or intuitively) you may find that you're more satisfied by smaller quantities of food.

3. Drink sensibly.

We know cocktails and beer enhance the holiday spirit for many. But don't forget, alcohol has calories too (7 kcals per gram to be exact)! If you're going to drink, make a conscious effort to have a glass of water in between each drink. Choose lower calorie options like light beer (versus dark) or sparkling water with lime/muddled fruit as your cocktail mixer. Most importantly, avoid having too many drinks before a meal because this can certainly lead to lack of judgement and overeating. 

4. Fill half of your plate with greens or non-starchy vegetable sides.

(And by non-starchy we mean no corn or potatoes). Then, fill one-quarter with turkey or your choice protein. Remember, protein will keep you satiated, help control your blood sugar and burn a few extra calories! Go light on the gravy. Fill the remaining quarter with just a spoonful of some of your favorite sides—this way you get to taste them all and not feel guilty about overeating them. This really should be your golden rule for all meals when you're trying to watch your waist.

5. Don’t let your hard work go to waste.

If you’ve worked hard the past weeks or months and you know you’re going to be lenient around the holidays—don’t let yourself go all the way! It is MUCH easier to put on weight than take it off and all your hard-work is not worth losing over a few potent meals. Don't skimp on exercise during the holidays--get your body moving even if it's in 10 minute increments throughout the day. Every little bit helps. Also, prep your own healthy breakfast or lunch, so that the holiday dinner is your only “cheat meal” of the day. If you have the choice, have the “cheat meal” for lunch rather than dinner, or if you're having it for dinner, eat no later than 7pm. This way, there's enough time to digest rather than going right to sleep with a full tummy.

6. Help train your appetite.

According to WebMD1, eating less won't physically shrink your stomach, but it can help to reset your "appetite thermostat" so you won't feel as hungry, and it may be easier to stick with your eating plan. A few days leading up to your big feast day, aim to have 3-5 smaller (yet nutrient dense) meals. (That means, lots of whole fresh foods including fruits and veggies). Protein smoothies are an easy way to load tons of nutrients in one sitting. This might help to control your appetite come feasting day.

7. Don’t wait to get back on track!

When the big feast day is over and you realize you had way more than you expected--don't fret! (At least not all day) Seriously. One day will not ruin your quest to healthfulness. Don’t waste time stressing out about it—spend your time making up for it instead—whether it’s through a longer than usual workout; a day of healthful meals/snacks or a combination of the two. What's most important is that you don’t let your feast meal become the beginning of a slippery slope. Get back on track by making better choices the days after. If you are in possession of leftovers, be mindful of portion sizes (as mentioned above) and fill up with as many colorful veggies as possible. Have leftovers earlier in the day, rather than late at night.

8. Wear something tight fitting at the meal.

It’s easy to be more lax with your eating when you wear loose or stretchy clothing. We're lookin' at you, cozy leggings. After all, these clothes stretch right along with you (and your tum)! Try wearing something snug on feast day (not because you should be uncomfortable) but because it can serve as an alarm or reminder to be mindful of your eating so that you don’t become uncomfortable from overeating.

9. Put out the energy or put on the weight!

Any type of exercise can help offset the extra calories and help motivate you to stick with the plan. During the holidays, a common time for social gatherings and feasts, it may be easier to walk an extra 20 minutes rather than give up a sliver of pumpkin pie. Any exercise you can put into your day will help to keep the pounds off your waist, even if it is in 5-10 minute increments. For best results, aim to get a cumulative 30 minutes of cardio exercise 3-5 days a week during the holidays. Get a nice sweat out of it if you can.

If possible, schedule your workouts in the morning to kick start your day the healthy way, although any time is better than none. Sometimes you naturally want to make healthier food choices after a workout. At the very least, go for a long, brisk walk with your friends/family after your holiday feast or put together a fun physical activity or game that you can all partake in.

10. Don’t forget to hydrate.

Get plenty of water in during the holidays and especially after holiday feasts. You want to help flush out any excess minerals (like salt) and any "toxins" your body creates as part of digestion. Also remember that sometimes when you think you are hungry, you are actually thirsty and a glass of water can help make some hunger pangs go away.

By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian

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