Most people overestimate the amount of weight gained during the holidays. According to The New York Times, the average weight gain for a U.S. adult between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is only a pound. Individuals who are overweight or obese, however, may gain five pounds or more. It is important to consider that weight gained during the 5-6 week holiday period is not typically lost and contributes to an overall increase in body weight from year to year.
In order to be successful in sticking to your goals during the holidays, you need to have a plan, be prepared, and stay committed. As I say, “If you fall off the horse, get right back on.” This “Holiday Plan” includes regular exercise that you can do regardless of the weather and a balanced diet that you can stick to, such as the Mediterranean Diet. Of course you can have a treat here and there, but the trick is to limit these to once or twice a week.
Steps that you can take to reduce holiday weight gain:
- Know your triggers: Trigger foods are different for everyone, but they include sweet treats, savory or salty snacks, and comfort foods. It is best to identify and avoid personal trigger foods as they commonly lead to overeating.
- Mental rehearsing: If there are situations that you know are difficult for you, such as resisting treats at the office, try picturing yourself successfully handling the situation. For example, walking by the candy dish at work without taking something.
- Write down everything you eat: This helps make you more aware and accountable to your choices.
- Fill up before you go out: Skipping meals before a holiday celebration can set you up for overeating. It is best to have a light meal or healthy snack such as a yogurt, raw veggies and hummus, or a handful of raw trail mix. It will stabilize your blood sugar and allow you to be more careful about food choices and portion sizes.
- Choose quality, not quantity: At a buffet, sample only two or three things that you really want, rather than try everything. Another trick is to forgo the everyday foods and only eat the special dishes. A rule of thumb is to fill your plate with ¾ full of healthy items and ¼ full of indulgent items.
- Don’t hang out at the appetizer table: Focus your attention on having conversations with other people.
- Wait 20 minutes before going back for more: It takes this long for your stomach to tell your brain that it is full.
- Make a bargain with yourself: Indulge at a party if you are good during the week.
- Limit alcohol: Only a small percentage of calories from alcohol become body fat. Alcohol affects the metabolism by stimulating appetite and blocking fat-burning. When you drink alcohol, calories from food are stored instead of being used for energy. Added calories come from mixers, soda, and creamy drinks, which can contain over 800 calories. If you are trying to limit extra calories, a single shot of distilled spirits in seltzer provides nearly 100 calories, which is comparable with a light beer.
- Forget the after dinner nibbles: Eating after dinner contributes to weight gain. If you really need a snack, try something with protein and a small amount of complex carbohydrates, such as peanut butter or piece of turkey with rye crisp.
- Get enough sleep: Chronic sleep loss disturbs the hormones, which regulate weight and appetite. Studies have shown that there may be an optimal amount of sleep for maintaining a healthy weight. Individuals who slept 5-6 hours per night tended to have more body fat than those who slept 7-8 hours per night.
- Schedule time for exercise: Make exercise a priority. An effective way of preventing holiday weight gain is by burning calories, suppressing appetite and reducing stress.
- Plan holiday celebrations around activities: Do something active with friends and family like ice skating, skiing, or sledding. Park and walk to view holiday lights instead of driving.
- Rethink the food gifts that you give: Does your family really need five kinds of cookies to sample? Fruits and raw nuts make healthier gifts than chocolates and candies. Non-food options for neighbors and friends include crafts and IOU’s.
Holiday weight gain is cumulative from year to year. Overweight and obese people gain the most. Doing a little planning and prioritizing healthy choices during the holidays will help you stay on target. Remember to exercise regularly and even increase the frequency or intensity if you can. Making a healthy choice or handling a situation successfully will lead to more healthy choices.
Dr. Stacey Munro is a naturopathic physician based in Windsor, Connecticut. Her specialties include chronic health issues such as diabetes, allergies, cardiovascular disease, digestive disease, and hormonal imbalance. She offers safe and successful weight loss programs and healthy eating plans. Dr. Munro can be reached at Nature’s Helper Medical Clinic at (860)-688-2275. She can also be reached at www.natureshelpermedical.com or email@example.com.