It seems like the calories that lead to holiday weight gain are lurking around every corner this time of year. From your Thanksgiving feast to Christmas cookies at the office and eggnog with your neighbor, the temptations are truly endless. And that doesn’t even include Christmas and New Year’s celebrations!
Even with the best intentions, it can be hard to stay on track when your schedule is even more hectic than usual. Most of us gain a little weight over the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 10 actionable strategies to help you avoid holiday weight gain.
1. Fill half of your plate with vegetables.
Whether you’re the host or a guest, vegetables are key to avoiding holiday weight gain. If you’re the host, be sure the menu includes plenty of non-starchy vegetable side dishes and fresh salads. If you’re the guest, make sure there’s at least one healthy vegetable dish by bringing one you love as your contribution to the festivities.
Then, when you fill your plate, make sure that half of it is veggies. The rest of your plate should be lean proteins (such as white turkey meat, lean roast beef, or legumes) with just a taste of the higher calorie, less healthy meats, bread, and side dishes you simply can’t resist. Limit or avoid gravies and sauces because they are usually loaded with calories and unhealthy fats.
2. Eat your veggies first.
Now that your plate is loaded up with yummy salad and vegetable dishes, eat them first. That way, you won’t be starving when you get to the glazed ham, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Not only are vegetables lower in calories, but they’re also higher in fiber, which will help you feel fuller, faster. And of course, they’re nutritious, so they’re excellent for your overall health.
3. Avoid holiday weight gain by eating mindfully.
There’s no reason to attack your food like a teenager with a plate of pancakes! We all get excited at the sight of a delicious holiday feast, but try to pace yourself, eat slowly, and savor every bite. Put your fork down between bites if it helps you remember to slow down. If you eat mindfully, you’ll be more likely to stop when you’re full, which is essential for avoiding holiday weight gain.
4. Wait 20 minutes before you go back for seconds.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize when you’re full, especially since it can take the brain up to 20 minutes to get the signal that your stomach is full. Pay attention to how you’re feeling as you eat and stop when you’re no longer enjoying the food. And, after your first plate, take a break for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then reevaluate to see if you really want more.
5. Don’t skip meals to “save room” for dinner.
We all know someone who uses this strategy and it’s a disaster for healthy eating and avoiding holiday weight gain. If you skip breakfast and lunch to save room, you’ll be starving by dinnertime. Not only will you be more likely to overeat, but you’ll probably make less healthy food choices, too. Eat a healthy breakfast and a balanced lunch before you head out to the holiday festivities to curb food cravings.
6. Don’t deprive yourself.
Don’t fill your plate up with a bunch of unhealthy food just because it’s there. Instead, be picky about what you put on your plate, but don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods. If there’s something you absolutely love, allow yourself to have a small serving of it. On the other hand, skip the things you are just “meh” about. Don’t eat something you’re not crazy about just because it’s a traditional holiday food.
7. The calories you drink count, too.
It’s the holidays, and it’s okay if you want to enjoy an adult beverage or two but try not to overindulge. Alternating between alcohol and water can minimize your calorie intake and keep you from overindulging. Instead of going for a high-calorie cocktail, try using seltzer as your mixer. And, avoid the eggnog altogether unless you really love it- it’s loaded with empty calories, fat, and sugar.
8. Get moving after dinner.
Instead of crawling to the living room and slipping into a food coma after dinner, get your walk on! Taking a walk in the fresh air after you eat a big meal is one of the healthiest things you can do to avoid holiday weight gain. Walking at a brisk pace for 15 to 20 minutes will help your body digest all that food and get your blood sugar levels stable.
9. Make some sort of physical activity part of the festivities.
Try to make some sort of physical activity a part of your holiday festivities and get the entire family involved. Of course, they could be included in your walk, but there are other things you could do together as well. Sledding and ice skating are super fun for the whole family… or you could all head outside for a good old-fashioned snowball fight!
10. Have your dessert.
Delicious desserts are a huge part of the holiday meal. Instead of depriving yourself of the cakes, pies, and cookies, enjoy them in moderation. Have a small serving of your absolute favorite, or if you simply can’t resist sampling everything, have just a taste of each. You might also consider contributing a lightened-up, healthier dessert to the menu if you’re the host or bring one if you’re the guest.
So many people get stressed about avoiding holiday weight gain, but try not to dwell on it too much. The holidays are all about celebrating, relaxing, and enjoying your friends and family, so it’s ok to let yourself indulge a little bit. If you end up eating or drinking more than you should have, don’t beat yourself up about it. The trick is to get right back to your healthy eating habits the next day so that you’re slip up doesn’t become your new habit.