From pumpkin pie to mashed potatoes covered in gravy, holiday weight gain can often seem like an inevitable fate. According to a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, American’s weight increases by an average of 0.2% over Thanksgiving and 0.4% during Christmas. But putting on unwanted pounds is anything but a foregone conclusion. You just need to go into the holiday season with a sound strategy.
To help you avoid holiday weight gain this winter, here’s a few tips.
1. Eat Slowly & Enjoy Your Food
The plethora of food options offered at holiday parties can be overstimulating. So it’s even more important to eat slowly to counter the urge to eat everything in sight. Chew your food completely and pay attention to the textures and tastes to allow your body time to catch up with your fullness cues.
“Place your utensil down in between bites. This will force you to slow down your eating and hopefully allow you to pay attention to your fullness cues, “ says Frankie O’Brien, MS RD LDN.
2. Don’t Skip Meals
Time and time again, we skip meals before holiday feasts to “save our appetite” or “save the calories.” The result? We show up ravenous and reach for every edible item insight.
It’s important to keep your blood sugars balanced throughout the day so you can think clearly when temptation strikes. For starters — eat breakfast! Studies show that consuming a high-protein breakfast can help curb cravings later in the day.
3. Fill up on Protein & Produce
Most holiday parties offer an array of food options. If maneuvered correctly, you can usually fill your plate with healthy alternatives. The key is to limit cakes, breads, crackers and other highly processed options. Instead, fill your plate with high-protein foods and produce that will help you feel full when you’re done eating.
“Grab Brussels sprouts and high-protein options first before adding starches to your plate,” says Frankie.
4. Focus on Weight Maintenance
Between tasty foods tempting you at every turn and the general stress of the holiday season, trying to lose weight is an overly ambitious goal for most people. Instead, focus on weight maintenance. Focus on portion control in place of hard-line dietary restrictions (e.g., calorie restrictions, no carbs). With fewer restrictions, you’ll feel less stressed. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy a treat or two!
“Choose your favorite holiday season foods. Select a smaller portion and take the time to enjoy it thoroughly. That way, you can indulge a bit without derailing your diet. Then, you can shift your goals once the holidays are over.” says Frankie.
5. Make Time for Physical Activity
According to Gallup, fewer Americans exercise regularly during the winter months. While the colder weather plays a part in that decline, the limited amount of “me time” most people have during the holidays is limited. Despite those circumstances, it’s essential to stay active if you want to avoid holiday weight gain.
Fortunately, there are many ways to incorporate physical activity into holiday activities.
“Make social events more physically engaging! Suggest a family walk or sign up for a family fun run. If you’re in a snowy climate, try snowshoeing, skiing or even going on a walk around the mall,” says Frankie.
6. Be Prepared
Walking into a holiday party without knowing what’s being served can leave you stranded without healthy alternatives. Rather than being blindsided, prepare for any situation by bringing your own health-conscious dish. Or, reach out to the host directly to see what they’ll be serving.
“If you’re planning to eat out at a restaurant, look up the menu online ahead of time so you have a game plan going into the evening,” says Frankie.
7. Stay Hydrated
Consuming less heavy holiday foods is a great start if you want to avoid holiday weight gain. But it’s also important to remember to drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
“Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water. Make sure you carry a reusable water bottle with you so you always have H2O on hand. You can even jazz up your water by adding fresh fruit or cucumber!” says Frankie.