Strategies To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Avoiding holiday weight gain may sound as feasible as Santa fitting down billions of chimneys on Christmas Eve, but we promise there are logical strategies to stay on track. Many of us experience weight gain during the festive winter months, but packing on a few pounds between now and the New Year is far from inevitable...
Avoiding holiday weight gain may sound as feasible as Santa fitting down billions of chimneys on Christmas Eve, but we promise there are logical strategies to stay on track. Many of us experience weight gain during the festive winter months, but packing on a few pounds in December is far from inevitable. Don’t get us wrong—the holiday season is all about celebrating, having fun, and indulging. So pass the eggnog and yule log (in moderation) and let’s tackle how to navigate holiday party food spreads, hectic schedules, and sidelined gym routines—without turning into Mr. Scrooge.
Tips for Eating and Drinking
1. Pick protein.
Protein can help maintain a healthy weight because high-protein diets are associated with greater satiety (and as an added benefit, it’s important for healthy muscle growth) . Make sure to serve up some turkey, roasted chicken, or prepare animal-free alternatives like quinoa, lentils, or beans.
2. Eat before celebrating.
Skipping breakfast or lunch in order to “save your appetite” probably isn’t the best weight-maintenance tactic. While the jury’s still out on how important breakfast really is, not breaking the fast ‘til the afternoon may lead to bingeing later on (read: four slices of pumpkin pie) . Make sure to stick to a reasonably sized breakfast with plenty of protein, which will help tone down the urge to stuff your face later.
3. Bring your own.
Rather than try to figure out what’s in every food item at a friend’s party (or avoid it altogether), bring a healthier side dish or dessert. Taste the dishes you’d like to, but know you have a healthy alternative to fall back on (an especially safe bet for those with food allergies or intolerances).
4. Chew slowly.
Eating slowly may not be easy when appetizer options are endless, but it pays off to pace yourself. The quicker we eat, the less time the body has to register fullness. So slow down and take a second to savor each bite of baked brie and scoop of spiced nuts.
5. Serve meals restaurant-style.
When it’s time to sit down for the main event, leave food on the kitchen counter (away from reach) rather than display a basket full of piping hot rolls, multiple casseroles, and an entire turkey right on the table. When you’ve cleaned your plate, take a breather, and then decide if you really want those seconds. Changing up the environment—in this case, by leaving food near the stove—can help reduce overall food intake.
6. Use smaller plates.
History shows plate sizes have expanded significantly over the years. Whether you’re dining at a friend's, family member’s house, or your own, choose the smaller salad plate (8-10 inches) instead of a tray-like one (12 inches or more). Using smaller plates can actually make us feel fuller with less food. The brain associates a big white space on the plate with less food (and smaller plates generally require smaller portions).
7. Fill up on fiber.
Snacking on vegetables and other high-fiber items like legumes can help keep us fuller, longer (though there’s always space for dessert) . Give the vegetable platter a second chance with a healthy, tasty dip.
8. Make room for (healthy) fats.
Cutting butter and oil can slash calories (and it’s easy to swap in foods like applesauce, avocado, banana, or flax into holiday baked goods!), but not all fats are bad fats. Not only do we need fat in our diets to provide energy and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, but it also helps us feel full. Get healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from avocados (hello, guacamole), nuts, and olive oil (in baked goods, on veggies, or in homemade dressings). Bonus: Combining fat with fiber—like dipping veggies in guac—has been shown to increase fat’s power to make us feel full.
9. Sneak in the veggies.
Munching on vegetables has long been recognized as a way to protect against obesity. Mix puréed veggies (like pumpkin) into baked goods or casseroles, or sneak them into pasta or potato dishes. Adding veggies increases fiber, which helps make us fuller.
10. Ditch added sugar.
Holiday cookies, cakes, and pies are nothing short of tempting, but all that added sugar may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Stick to sugar that comes in its natural form (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and try small tastes of the desserts you’re truly craving rather than loading up a full plate of bland cookies.
11. Just say no.
Though Grandma or Uncle Bob may encourage overeating by shoving seconds onto an already cleaned plate, it’s okay to respectfully decline. “I’m full” or “I’m taking a break” should be enough for friends and family members to back off (and give you some time to decide if you’d really like more).
12. Wait before grabbing seconds.
The quicker we shovel down a meal, the less time we give our bodies to register fullness. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that dinner’s been served, it’s best to go for a walk or sit down and chat with friends before dishing up seconds or eyeing the dessert table.
13. Take it easy on simple carbs.
That’s the white stuff—white bread, pastries, and refined sugars (like those in soda). These foods provide energy, but they lack the same nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and fiber) as complex carbohydrates. The body breaks down simple carbs quickly, which creates a spike in blood sugar (insulin) that leaves us feeling hungrier, faster. Choose whole grains instead (i.e. whole-grain rolls, brown rice or quinoa, and desserts made with whole-wheat flour), which may reduce potentially dangerous excess abdominal fat buildup.
14. Freeze it.
If you end up with loads of leftovers on your kitchen counter, pack up the extras and stash ‘em in the freezer for a later date. When the food is out of sight, studies show you’ll be less likely to reach for a second helping (like when everyone’s asleep) .
15. Turn off the tube.
Though turning off the TV during ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” feels like a sin, eating while watching television is linked to poor food choices and over-eating . Getting sucked into A Christmas Story or Elf may bring on mindless eating since it can be easy to lose track of just how many candied pecans or gingersnaps we’ve thrown down the hatch. And it’s not just the mindlessness of watching television that’ll get us. Commercials for unhealthy foods and drinks may increase our desire for low-nutrient junk, fast food, and sugary beverages.
16. Chew gum.
Popping a piece of sugar-free gum won’t necessarily curb your appetite. But chewing a 5-calorie stick can keep the mouth busy when cooking up a meal or socializing amongst a sea of hor d’ouevres at a party. While the long-term effects of gum chewing on weight loss are minimal, studies show it can lower cravings for sweet and salty snacks, and decrease hunger between meals.
17. Gulp H2O
Drinking water helps people feel full, and as a result consume fewer calories . Rather than drink calorie- and sugar-laden sodas andjuices (associated with increased body fat and blood pressure) treat yourself to a glass of wine with dinner and keep your allegiance to water for the rest of the day!