With the holiday season right around the corner and a heck of a 2020 still playing evil tricks, it’s easy to look forward to burying the stressors in endless cheesy casseroles and sweet potato pies. However, that brings with it another potential stressor: weight gain.
“Although you should certainly allow yourself to splurge a little on the day of the holiday, it is important that you get back on track the following day,” says dietitian Kristin Gillespie, M.S., R.D., L.D., C.N.S.C. “One day of less than ideal food consumption will not result in weight gain, but we get into trouble when there are many of these days strung together.” After all, the average American gains roughly one to three pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day.
With some smart planning and a few expert-backed strategies in your tool kit, you can ensure the onset of the holiday season doesn’t make that scale tick north. Here’s how to avoid holiday weight gain, enjoy the most wonderful time of the year, and make it through to 2021 as healthy as ever.
1. Eat Before Big Holiday Meals
Before Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or other festive holiday meals, you may be tempted to go easy on breakfast and/or lunch—or fast altogether—in preparation for the feast.
Your best bet against going overboard, though, is to eat plenty of wholesome, good-for-you foods before celebration time.
Gillespie recommends eating a breakfast that is high in protein and fiber and a high-protein snack before supper kicks off. “These healthy meals and snacks will keep you feeling full throughout the day, resulting in an overall decrease in calories at your holiday gathering,” she explains. (Check out these eight high-protein snacks nutritionists love for a little inspiration, and stock up on a quality protein powder or protein bars to have at the ready.)
2. Adapt a “produce first” mentality
It’s easy to bypass the veggies the moment we see a juicy holiday ham at the center of the table. But, adding them to your plate practically guarantees you a healthier holiday meal.
“Whether it’s brunch or a traditional family dinner, opt to fill your plate with veggies or fruit before tackling the rest of the meal,” suggests “The Weight Loss Therapist” Dr. Candice Seti, Psy.D., C.P.T., C.N.C. At breakfast or brunch, make yourself a fruit bowl or bowl of greens first. At dinner, go for plenty of roasted veggies and salad.
“Either way, you will fill up some space in your stomach to help curb your hunger and get a bunch of good nutrients in your system—something that’s often missing from our holiday favorites,” adds Seti.
3. Get your body moving
“You may not have much control over the food that’s around you during the holidays, but you can always make the decision to fit in exercise,” says Seti.
If you’re short on time, even a 15-minute HIIT workout or a brisk walk before you gather at the table is well worth it. Or, even better: Get those steps in before dessert. As your body digests and sends those satiety signals to your brain, you may realize you don’t need as much pie as you initially thought.
“Exercising throughout the holidays will help burn up some calories and amp up your metabolism,” Seti says. “But, more importantly, it will help keep you focused on your health and feeling good, strong-willed, and clear-headed—all things that will help stop you from giving in to unnecessary temptation.” (Try this 30-minute full-body strength workout for a quick sweat.)
4. Create Parameters Around alcohol intake
Whether it’s wine, beer, or mixed drinks, booze guarantees two things: empty calories and a not-so-fun morning after. Keeping your consumption in check will also help you avoid holiday weight gain. “On a regular day, I often tell clients to try choosing between either alcohol or dessert. But when it’s the holiday season, clients want to be able to have all their favorite foods and enjoy them,” says dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller, R.D., L.D.N., advisor for Fitter Living. “Instead choosing one or the other, set a time limit for alcohol.”
If you don’t want to give yourself a specific time cut-off, create a parameter like “I’ll only have wine before dinner and then stick to water once we sit down” or “I’ll have a glass of champagne while opening presents.” Or, alternate alcoholic beverages with glasses of water to slow down your pace, suggests Kostro Miller.
5. Practice mindful eating
“During the holiday season, there are constant temptations to overeat,” notes Phoenix-based dietitian Marisa Gutierrez, M.S., R.D. “Eating mindfully and tuning in with your hunger and fullness scale can help ward off the urge to overeat and help you fully enjoy the foods you do eat.”
To avoid holiday weight gain by noshing more mindfully, Gutierrez recommends spending a few minutes checking in with yourself before, during, and after mealtimes—and breathing deeply and paying attention to physical and mental cues, such as specific emotions, that arise as you eat. On a scale of zero (being famished) and 10 (being sickly full), eat when you’re around a level three or four, take your time, and stop when you hit a level seven or eight, says Gutierrez. This way, you feel satisfied but not too full.
“Keep in mind that you can always say ‘no’ now, but save leftovers to enjoy later; sometimes foods are even better that way!” she says.
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