When the holidays roll around each year, do you worry that you’re going to be a victim of holiday weight gain, again? If you said “yes,” that’s understandable; there are plenty of reasons why you may be concerned! Trying to avoid weight gain during the holidays can be a challenge. After all, the usual routines you might have in place for healthy eating, stress management, or exercise seem to get displaced once holiday events start to fill your calendar. All of the running to and from events, parties, and potlucks may throw your routines off course, leaving you feeling that it’s no use to try to be healthy now.
The fact is that holiday weight gain is real. A study from Cornell University found that participants’ weight began to rise throughout October and November, peaking 10 days after Christmas. And those extra pounds can take more than five months to lose. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that most Americans never lose the weight they gain during the winter holidays. If this trend continues, your weight is sure to leave you several pounds heavier year after year, steadily rising over time. And it’s no secret that an unhealthy weight can put you at greater risk for many health issues like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
But while the holidays are well-known for leaving many of us a few (or several) pounds heavier, there are steps you can take to avoid weight gain during the holidays. You don’t have to end up on this weight gain path. You can enjoy the holidays without putting on extra pounds. Here, we’ve compiled our best tips to help you avoid weight gain during the holiday season.
1. Choose a Smaller Plate
One way to ensure you eat less without feeling deprived is to choose a smaller plate. Whether you’re eating at home or dining at a holiday party, using a smaller plate will help you to consume more appropriate portions while being more selective about what goes on your plate. Also, since you have less surface area to work with on a smaller plate, when it’s “full” you’ll feel more satisfied than if you were looking at a larger, half-full plate with the same amount of food on it.
2. Do Not Show Up Hungry
Think it’s a good idea to skip a meal or snack before you head off to the party? Reconsider this strategy. Showing up ravenous can easily lead to making less desirable food choices as well as over-consumption in general. Instead, have a small, healthy meal or snack before you head off to the holiday party. Being somewhat satisfied when you arrive will help you to maintain discipline when you eventually see the holiday “goodies” on display.
3. Beware of the Buffet
It’s common for dinner to be served buffet-style during holidays, but the buffet can easily be a calorie trap. If your goal is to avoid weight gain during the holidays, you’ll need to beware of the buffet. Rather than stack your plate as you work your way around, take a tour first to assess the lay of the land. Then, decide what you’re going to have and create a healthy holiday plate. It’s a good idea to go for the fruits and veggies first. Then work your way towards the proteins and sides.ices. Whether it’s a buffet or restaurant, focus on building a healthy, balanced plate at each meal. Watch out for sauces and dips loaded with sugar and excess calories. It’s okay to enjoy the selection. Moderation is the key!
4. Enjoy the Interactions Just as Much as the Food
Attending a holiday party isn’t all about the food. Remember, people gather during the holidays to spend quality time and make memories with those they care about. Be sure to enjoy all aspects of the party, not just the food. Whether you’re the host or guest, here are some activities to consider:
- Reminisce with friends and family members
- Play games
- Take turns sharing your gratitude
- Look at photo albums
- Read poetry or short stories
- Capture the moment with photos
- Share memories and stories
Doing these activities – rather than going for seconds and thirds – can help bring you closer to those who mean much to you. This holiday season, be intentional about how you spend your time and work to take the focus off the food.
5. Create Healthier Versions of Your Favorite Recipes
It’s no surprise that recipes for many holiday favorites often call for less healthy ingredients or preparation methods. But, recipes don’t have to be followed verbatim. Create healthier versions of these calorie-dense recipes by making a new version! You can do this in a variety of ways, including:
- Reduce the amount of sugar and salt.
- Eliminate or cut back on some ingredients such as toppings or condiments.
- Serve smaller portions.
- Switch up your preparation or cooking method.
Take a look at some of your family’s favorite holiday recipes. It might be time for great grandma’s holiday pudding recipe to get a makeover. You may have to experiment a bit, but you can eventually develop new versions of your holiday favorites to transform them from unhealthy to healthy while keeping the great taste.
6. Be Selective About Sweets
Desserts, treats, and sweets are an easy trap for weight gain during the holidays. Whether it’s the box of gourmet chocolates that a client has gifted to your office, your coworker’s holiday cookies, a family member’s bread pudding, or the display in the grocery store, temptations will be lurking around every corner during this time of year.
It’s easy to over-indulge on the sweet stuff during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, be sure to choose wisely. Rather than sample everything, make a selection of your absolute must-try treat. Or, go ahead and sample a few in smaller portions. Some people can eat one bite of something and stop. Others want to “finish” the entire portion. One of my friends has a saying, “The second and third bites won’t taste the same as the first.” This is a wise way to maintain control when the party platters start to circulate.
7. Remain Active to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays
Be sure to remain active during the holidays. It can be so easy to forget about movement, but this is a huge mistake! Staying active will help you to stick to a healthy routine year-round so you’re not entering the new year a few pounds heavier making resolutions that are likely to be short-lived.
If you’re traveling during the holidays, you can remain active. Bring your workout equipment with you and use the fitness centers at your hotel.
Sharing meals is expected during the holidays, but why not create other routines that encourage family time and bonding? The holidays can be a great time to create new fitness routines for yourself and the whole family. Use the time off from work or school to be more active as a family, go outdoors more often, or try new activities that can become a regular part of your routines.
Avoiding weight gain during the holidays doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself of food or fun times. You can avoid gaining weight during the holidays by making smart choices, planning ahead and making small changes to your favorite recipes and routines.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Expert, and Health Educator. She creates impactful, evidence-based health and wellness content and programs for individuals, families, and communities.