If you’re one of these people who never gains weight during the holidays, or gains then sheds all that extra every spring, you might already be doing everything right.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t.
So, for the rest of us, we’ve put together a quick guide to make sure that you stay strong over the holiday season.
Three Reasons People Gain Weight Over the Holidays
- From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the weather tends to be at its most extreme—in the northern hemisphere it’s cold and wet, and in the southern, stiflingly hot. This means that it’s harder for many people to exercise outdoors―or want to leave the house to go to the gym.
- Holidays are inherently stressful, especially for women, who do most of the emotional and physical work of putting the celebrations together. Many people eat their emotions—especially women, who are strongly discouraged from showing unpleasant emotions like anger. Add the extra time and emotional pressure to the weather, and taking care of yourself can seem impossible.
- Finally, we’re surrounded by really tasty food that we enjoy—and that’s often high in sugar and the wrong kinds of fat.
Holding Your Own
There are things you can do to avoid gaining weight during the holidays:
· Prioritize Exercise
This is especially important if you’re a woman. This is your time, and exercise is a proven way to release stress. But be easy: if you normally love to hit the weights at the gym, but right now your schedule is just crazy, maybe do something like walk before and after work. Above all, exercise in a way you enjoy. Because the exercise you enjoy is better than “the best” workout you don’t do.
· Embrace the Cold
Your body burns calories to keep warm. Keep your house—and your body—just cool enough that you’re comfortable in corduroys and a sweater during the day, and in bed under a comforter at night. If you’re a woman, be sure to pair this with exercise: despite our greater levels of body fat, women seem to feel the cold more than men, probably due to lower levels of physical activity and thus poorer circulation.
· Kill Your Television
Very few things encourage mindless eating of high-calorie foods than watching sports, one in particular. One of the great things about the holidays is the chance to spend time with people you enjoy but rarely see. So have a gabfest with your favorite person about the books you’ve read or want to read, compare knitting projects, go hiking or do a 1000-calorie charity spin at your local gym together. Establish a family tradition of taking walks with the people you don’t normally get to see.
Enjoy Holiday Food without Gaining Weight!
The secret to getting through the holiday season without permanent weight gain is accepting that a few indulgent meals are fine—not an excuse to throw common sense to the wind between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
However, we all need a few proven tips and tricks, because this can be a challenging season even if we don’t have food addictions. Discipline and self-control are great, but they only go so far. Each of these tips is designed to make common sense easy.
When You’re the Host…
You control the food that’s being served. This means you can structure the holiday feast around whole grains, lean proteins and flavorful vegetables, with herbs and spices for intensity of taste, rather than added sugar, salt and fat.
Host or Guest…
Cooking or baking? Chew spearmint- or peppermint-flavored gum. This will help keep you from nibbling, and the mint seems to stimulate the area of the brain that registers fullness. (Avoid sweet or fruit flavors.) It’s also a great trick if you want to distract yourself from a buffet of goodies.
Only a Few Feast Days
Following your normal healthy eating plan before and after each feast day will significantly reduce any potential weight gain. This means, no nibbling between meals.
One Big Meal a Day
If you know you’re having a feast, such as an office party, a family get-together, or a celebration with friends, that should be your only large meal of the day. Otherwise…
Stick to Your Normal Eating Schedule
Eat—at the normal times—small meals: perhaps some of your own roast turkey tucked into a whole-grain or Paleo pita with some avocado, lettuce and tomato. Or some whole-grain or seed bread toasted with your favorite cheese or nut butter. This will stabilize your blood sugar so you don’t arrive ready to eat e-v-e-r-y-thing.
Keep Your Hands Occupied
It’s hard to eat nuts and candies and sweets and appetizers when you have a glass of water in one hand and a plate of nice fruit and vegetables in the other.
Walk Away from the Food
We’re wired to eat what we see. So the less time you spend with food and the more time you spend with people and pets, the less you’ll eat. And have a better time.
Keep It Clean and Simple
If you’re drinking anything other than water or plain coffee or tea, alternate water with your drinks. If you’re drinking alcohol, stick to dry wine: mixed drinks can have as many calories as dessert, and your brain isn’t very good at registering liquid calories. Alcohol also lowers inhibitions, including against overeating, and alternating water and alcoholic drinks will limit that.
Stuff Yourself on the Good Stuff
Really. When you get to the holiday feast, set yourself up for success by drinking a glass of water (still or sparking) before you eat anything. Then eat a clear soup (if possible) and high-volume foods like vegetables and salads, along with lean protein. The fiber and the protein will fill you up, satisfying you.
Use a Small Plate
Chances are, if it’s on your plate, you will eat it. Choosing a smaller plate is a great way to reduce the volume of food without feeling deprived. Take a few tablespoons of what you want, then eat slowly so you can savor the taste. What you should avoid at all costs is taking a large portion of something and saying, I’ll just have a bite. A few people can do that. Most people can’t.
Don’t Add Trouble
Holiday fare is inherently fattening, so try to avoid added fat and sugar, such as gravies and butter or spread on bread, or the whipped cream, flavored syrup or “à la mode” on your pie.
Eat Only What You Love
This is a good time to warn you about people who may try to sabotage your weight loss plans—especially if they know you’ve been successful. (Can you say, jealousy?) If you don’t love it, don’t put it on your plate. If someone tries to get you to eat something you know you don’t want, just say, “No thank you”. You don’t have to say, “I’m on a diet.” Food is not a weapon. This is especially important when it comes to desserts. Obviously, fruit is better than cakes or pies, but if you’re gonna have some cake or pie, it should be something you love.
About those Seconds
Wait 20 minutes after you’ve finished eating, so your brain has a chance to register how much you’ve really taken in. Sip a glass of water and talk with your family and friends. And if you decide on seconds, eating only what you love and taking “tablespoon tastes” rather than “serving-spoon servings” is even more important.
Don’t do what we usually do when we feel short on time, and cut your sleep. Sleeping less than 5 hours reduces leptin levels and elevates ghrelin levels. Leptin makes you feel full and ghrelin is your irresistible appetite hormone. You want to do everything you can to keep those two powerful hormones on your side.
Also, enough sleep makes you feel less stress…and stress itself encourages overeating. Usually of the high-calorie sweet and “comfort foods” that are so plentiful this time of year.