It may seem as if the words “holiday” and “weight gain” are practically synonymous. But that doesn't have to be the case.
Katherine McManus, MS, RD, LDN, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says that people tend to gain a pound a year. "Most of that weight is gained over the holiday season," she notes.
It doesn't sound like much...until 10 or 20 (or more) years roll by. Ouch.
The good news, according to McManus, is that deliberate attempts to avoid that extra annual pound can be successful: She cites a study in which people who went into the holiday season armed with a plan actually lost weight. If they did it, so can you.
1. Plan Your Eating
McManus suggests marking all holiday events on your calendar “so you’ll remember to plan ahead.” For evening events, she advises eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, then having a light snack before you head out. Whole fruit (not compotes or canned fruit), nuts, seeds, carrot sticks and the like make suitable snacks.
Staying on a regular eating plan is important because it’s easy to not only overeat if you go to a party hungry but to also eat the wrong things. “When you enter a party starving, do you make a beeline for the crudité? I don’t!” says nutritionistSamantha Cassetty, RD.
2. Find a Buddy
Find a friend or family member who is also committed to keeping his or her weight in check during the holidays, and tag-team each other. Having someone else to motivate (and sometimes challenge) you can help you stick with it when you’re feeling stressed or otherwise vulnerable to slip-ups.
3. Stay Active
One thing you and your buddy can do for each other is to send daily “get your exercise” reminders. Exercise needs to be a key component of your plan if you’re going to be successful.
For example, instead of spending a whole day on the couch, suggest to the fam that a friendly game of flag football or backyard basketball—or simply going for a walk together—might be a better way to enjoy each other’s company. (The extra bonding won’t hurt, either.)
Actually, walking is an easy way of making yourself move. “Aim for 10,000 steps a day,” advises McManus; a pedometer can help you keep track. She also suggests standing for 10 minutes each hour.
“Do what you can when you can, even if that’s just a quick routine in your living room,” adds Cassetty. According to her, research indicates that exercise “can counter some of the metabolic effects of overeating.”
4. Focus on Protein and Fiber
It’s not likely that you’ll be eating party fare every day during the holiday season. Base all those meals in between on “the winning combo of protein and fiber—the nutrient duo that helps tame hunger,” says Cassetty.
Her suggestions include salads that include roasted veggies, canned tuna and a small amount of dressing as well as chicken or turkey grain bowls in which the vegetables, not the grain (always whole instead of refined), predominate.
No matter what meal you’re eating, avoid processed foods—basically, anything out of a box or a can—as much as possible. Most processed foods contain excess amounts of sugar and/or salt.
Don’t forget planning for the workplace, which can become a carbohydrate minefield when people start bringing in platters of cookies, cakes, etc.; McManus suggests moving such treats “to a high-traffic area to spread the goodies around.” Keep high protein- and/or fiber-rich snacks, such as roasted chickpeas, in your area so you’ll have healthy alternatives.
5. Splurge Carefully
That being said, trying to avoid each and every treat offered to you will become frustrating and ultimately self-defeating. The idea is to pick your splurges wisely.
“It’s fine to have a food thrill or two,” says Cassetty; just don’t “reserve a spot on your plate for the stuff that doesn't totally wow you.” Prefer the stuffing? Have some—but avoid piling the mashed potatoes and dinner rolls on top of it.
The fave-only approach is especially applicable to desserts, which tend to be high in calories pretty much by design. And when you do indulge, eat slowly; you are less likely to overdo it that way.
6. Practice Portion Control
Another way to slow your eating roll is to manage your portions.
One easy way to do this is to use a smaller plate; studies show that the bigger the plate, the more you are likely to eat.
It should also be your policy to skip seconds or (heaven forbid) thirds. Fill your smaller plate with a reasonable amount of food—and then you’re done.
7. Watch What You Drink
As tempting as the spiked eggnog might be, you’ll want to pass it up—along with alcohol in general.
“Alcohol can weaken your inhibitions so while you might have intended to skip the baked brie, a couple of drinks might spur you to change your mind,” notes Cassetty. If you do indulge, she suggests sticking to the generally recommended two drinks a day for men and one for women.
Cassetty also proposes that you “avoid sugary mix-ins, which can worsen the impact of alcohol.”
In addition, avoid colas and similar drinks, even the sugar-free versions. Stick with water or club soda instead; for flavor, add a lemon or lime slice.
8. Eat Mindfully
Often we eat mindlessly while doing something else (like being the life of the holiday party). That practically guarantees weight gain.
Eating mindfully involves staying “tuned to when you’re feeling content,” says Cassetty, which she explains as the state when “you’ve satisfied your physical hunger and you’ve shown your taste buds some love.” To assess your contentment level, Cassetty recommends checking in “with yourself about midway through your meal to make a mental note of how you’re feeling.”
Other ways to eat mindfully, whether it’s the holiday season or not, are to not “eat in front of the TV or on the go,” adds McManus. (Learn more about mindful eatinghere.)
9. Weigh Yourself Regularly
It isn’t always easy to discern if your weight is slowly creeping upward, especially if your clothing still fits. That’s why “weight monitoring can be such an effective way to prevent weight gain,” says Cassetty.
So get on the scale regularly. However, note that this method may not work if seeing those numbers stresses you out too much.
10. Fight Stress, Find Sleep
Speaking of stress: “Research suggests that stress can lead to less-healthy food choices,” says Cassetty (in addition to playing havoc with your hormones).
That makes practicing a consistent form ofstress relief—meditation, yoga, whatever works for you—an important part of your plan.
What’s more, stress reduction will also help yousleep better, which also makes it easier to control cravings and stay motivated.
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