The holiday season is all about celebrating, togetherness, and indulging. Between the seasonal soirées, stress, and sugary and starchy treats, it's also a time when people tend to pack on the pounds. The good news is holiday weight gain isn't inevitable. Here are some simple ways to beat weight gain during the festive, calorie-filled winter season.
ENJOY FUN WINTERTIME ACTIVITIES
Whether you're at a fireside party with a cocktail in hand or you've just polished off three servings of buttery mashed potatoes and the game is on, spending time on the couch is a traditional wintertime activity. But it's possible to balance the lounging with some healthy, festive, and even fun cold weather activities. Maintain your active lifestyle by hitting the ice-skating rink or slopes via snowboard or skis, exploring the trails by snowshoe, or simply going on post-meal walk with the family.
PLAN YOUR HOLIDAY MEALS
It's easy to rack up the calories around the holidays when you're feeling stressed and rushed, which is why planning your meals is vital to staying on track — whether you're maintaining your current weight or trying to drop some pounds. Prevent overeating by prepping your meals in advance, so healthy meals and snacks are ready to go during the week. Look for ways to cut back on empty calories so you can splurge on holiday indulgences like Grandma's pecan pie later.
AVOID BANKING CALORIES
Don't cut back on food all day to "save your appetite" for an event. You'll just want to pig out! Most people sabotage their meal plan by skipping breakfast or lunch assuming they're going to be eating large later. But breakfast gets your metabolism going for the day, and puts you in control. Make sure to start the day with a reasonably sized breakfast with plenty of protein, and avoid walking into a party already starving by having a nutritious snack beforehand. To curb the temptation to stuff your face, drink a glass of water before filling up your plate at the party.
BRING A HEALTHY PARTY DISH TO SHARE
If your schedule is full of dietary minefields (aka holiday parties and office potlucks), take matters into your own hands by finding out what dishes will be served ahead of time. Come armed with your own healthy dish to share — like fresh-chopped veggies and a dip or fruit for dessert — so you'll at least have one guilt-free dish to eat with confidence, no matter what kind of food is there. Gather a list of healthy holiday recipes, so you always have a go-to when you need to bring something to a party.
FEAST ON GOOD COMPANY
Instead of stressing about the food spread and bar scene, focus on being in the moment with family and friends (and even acquaintances, or soon-to-be friends) at holiday gatherings. Don't hover around the food or even dinner table at a party. Take your mind off eating by chatting, dancing, and laughing, and you're bound to create memories that don't revolve around eating.
Practice mindful eating. Pace yourself by sitting down and savoring every bite of baked brie or brownie. It takes your brain nearly 20 minutes to register that you're full, so eating fast is a quick recipe for an expanded waistline. By chewing slowly and putting your fork down between bites, you'll wind up eating less and feeling more satisfied. When you've cleaned your plate, take a breather, then decide if you really want a second helping.
REACH FOR THE SMALL PLATE
We tend to overload our plates with more food than we actually need. Plate sizes have expanded over the years, but you can prevent a diet disaster by going for a smaller salad or dessert plate instead of an entree plate. Using smaller plates can help control portion sizes by tricking your brain into thinking you're full with less food, reducing the likelihood of holiday weight gain.
FILL UP ON PROTEIN AND FIBER
Carb-forward holiday foods often lack adequate protein or fiber, but snacking on high-fiber and protein-rich foods help us stay full longer and promote weight loss. Include a serving or two of protein like turkey, roasted chicken, fish, or animal-free alternatives like quinoa, lentils, and beans in daily meals. Work your way around the potluck vegetable platter and incorporate nutrient-dense and fiber-rich foods — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds — into meals. Blend puréed veggies like pumpkin or zucchini into baked goods, sneak broccoli into pasta dishes and casseroles, and add pears or raspberries to desserts.
BE A PICKY EATER
Whether you're deciding between a decadent slice of chocolate cake or another festive cocktail, it pays to be a picky eater over the holidays. Survey all your options at the buffet table before choosing what makes the cut for your plate. Instead of tasting everything, zero in on three or four eye-catching goodies. Opt for special dishes you look forward to and can get only during the holidays (like Mimi's cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving), then savor each bite. Remember it's okay to politely decline relatives pushing second helpings.
LIMIT ALCOHOL AND SODAS
Be smart about the booze and soft drinks you consume at gatherings. Aside from the sugary juice and soda mixers, alcohol is high in calories and can lower inhibitions, making you more likely to overindulge on those sugar cookies. Soft drinks are also a major source of empty calories. If you can't give up the martinis or fizzy beverages completely ('Tis the season, after all!), avoid the sugary and creamy cocktails (or liquid dessert), and limit your party-hopping intake by nursing your glass slowly and drinking water, seltzer, or unsweetened iced tea in between.
DRINK (OR EAT) MORE WATER
People who drink more water or eat more water-rich foods like leafy greens throughout the day end up eating fewer calories. We often mistake thirst for hunger, so sip on water or iced tea before reaching for the food. Prevent overeating and offset any sodium-laden processed foods by sipping on water between bites and keeping a cup of water in hand at holiday parties. Eating your H2O can help you stay hydrated, and also move everything through your system faster.
SAVE UP THROW-AWAY FOOD CONTAINERS
When food is out of sight, you're less likely to reach for a second helping. After hosting a party, either immediately store leftovers in the freezer for a later date (it'll take more effort to dig back in) or send holiday treats home with guests in throw-away food containers. Clean and save up recyclable lunch meat and take out food containers, or buy cheap goodie bags to use as vessels for yummy holiday leftovers. Friends and family won't have to worry about returning the containers since they're tossable, and you won't be stuck with any lingering calorie-filled foods.
RE-GIFT TREATS OR DONATE TO CHARITY
Just because people give you delicious holiday treats doesn't mean you have to eat all of them. Take advantage of the season's plethora of get-togethers by re-gifting homemade baked goods and store-bought foods like gift baskets to friends' and relatives' parties or even the office communal space. Also, consider donating certain food gifts to a local food pantry or shelter to spread the holiday cheer.
MAKE FITNESS A PRIORITY
You wouldn't miss a work day, a doctor's appointment, or a chance to do some holiday shopping, would you? Your fitness should remain a priority throughout the holiday season. If anything, you should be working out more than usual to curb weight gain (burn it to earn it). Schedule your workouts on the calendar and stick to the plan, so other obligations don't encroach on your gym time. Remember: A killer workout isn't limited to the gym; you can work up a sweat from just about anywhere using your bodyweight.
KEEP TRACK OF CALORIES AND PORTIONS
Tracking your food diligently — whether it's calculating cheese samples with a nutrition app or tallying the canapés with toothpicks in your pocket — can help you watch your intake. "Hidden" calories in hors d'œuvres and buffet fixings are easy to gloss over, but not if you're accounting for every spoonful in a tracker. Look up calories before you bite, set a limit, and stick to the plan. Learn how to read food labels and measure portion sizes (even if it requires using your best judgment) to overcome portion distortion and ensure you're filling your plate appropriately.
ALWAYS KEEP A HEALTHY EMERGENCY SNACK ON HAND
Keeping a healthy emergency snack on hand while running errands, shopping late at the mall, or working through office parties are a good idea to prevent going overboard on the wrong foods. Calorie-rich treats can be easy to access during the holidays, but grazing on a stash of healthy, portable foods in your purse, car, or desk drawer can help satisfy cravings. Also, beware of diet foods that actually make it harder to lose weight.
ADD AN EXTRA 10 MINUTES OF DAILY CARDIO
Tacking on just 10 extra minutes of vigorous exercise to your usual workout routine can help offset holiday snacking. Make post-meal strolls with your spouse or family a holiday tradition, or work in high-intensity moves like jumping jacks or high-knee running in place in small amounts throughout the day. Even just a short walk first thing in the morning can boost your metabolism for the rest of the day.
GET SOME SLEEP
Between planning a holiday party and wrapping gifts, you're more apt to skimp on some much needed shut-eye. But sleep shouldn't be the first thing that gets cut from your never-ending to-do list. Sleep-deprived people tend to consume more calories, get less physical activity, and have slower metabolisms. Getting enough sleep can help shave off some pounds, so set a regular alarm to alert you to start winding down an hour before bedtime.
Stress can trigger cravings, so it's especially important to control your anxiety during the holidays when you're likely to be bombarded with errands and surrounded by unhealthy foods. Kick cravings by relaxing before you party and take 10 deep breaths before you hit the holiday spread. If you're feeling overwhelmed — making you susceptible to binging — try meditation, simple breathing exercises, knocking an item off your to-do list, or yoga to avoid emotional eating.
REMEMBER YOUR GOALS
Don't punish yourself for overindulging. Cut yourself a break if you overeat one night, and remember it takes more than a single meal or even day of overeating to defeat your progress. Accept your slip-ups, learn from them, and get back on track by starting fresh with a healthier choice the next time you eat. Focus on attainable goals (don't try to overhaul your diet overnight or make too many changes at once), write down weekly resolutions, and remind yourself of them before you hit snooze or take a bite.