The few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are the most festive time of year, with parties and potlucks dotting the calendar and decadent treats at every turn. We may feel compelled to eat, because … ‘tis the season! Because of this, it isn’t surprising to find our pants fitting a bit tighter as the holidays progress.
While it’s understandably easy to pack on pounds, that doesn’t mean holiday weight gain is inevitable. Here are some strategies to help you avoid weight gain, while still being able to indulge in your holiday favorites:
You wouldn’t go to a holiday party without giving thought to what you’ll wear, so why would you go to a party without giving thought to what you’ll eat? Have a few guidelines in place for how you plan to handle food offerings before showing up. “Set a limit on the amount of appetizers you consume since they can be loaded in calories and not very filling,” says New York City-based dietitian Natalie Rizzo, RD, adding the caveat to “only indulge on the ones that are really special.”
Mealtime is no different. Reviewing food offerings or menus ahead of time can be a calorie-saving strategy. “Survey the entire buffet before you put anything on your plate,” adds New York City-based dietitian Amy Gorin, RDN, who suggests filling at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables to prevent overdoing it on higher-calorie options.
Alcohol can increase your appetite and lower your inhibitions, leading to bad decisions in the end. If you drink too much before the meal is served, you’re more likely to eat larger portions and indulge in richer, calorie-laden foods. Instead, wait to enjoy your glass of wine until the main course is served. Or skip it altogether and enjoy a small cordial with dessert.
You may think you’re “saving” calories for the big meal by skipping lunch or an afternoon snack, but that strategy can backfire, leading to excessive hunger and overeating later. “Keep fueling snacks on hand to tide you over,” suggests Gorin, adding that “one of my favorites to keep is a small bag of pistachios, which contain a trio of protein, fiber and unsaturated fats to help you feel full longer.” Keep filling snacks on hand and eat every 3–4 hours to stay in control of hunger.
Deprivation is definitely not your friend. If you tell yourself a food is off limit, it will just make you crave it more. “Save room for dessert. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you know you want to save room for some dessert, you are less likely to eat mindlessly,” says Rizzo. And when you have dessert, make sure to really enjoy it and then stop when you’re full.
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Making just a few small adjustments can shave off a significant amount of calories and fat from your favorite holiday recipes. “When making brownies, you can replace a cup of all-purpose flour with a 15-ounce can of black beans,” explains Gorin. And recipe swaps don’t have to be reserved just for dessert: “For muffins or dessert bread, swap out half of the oil or butter and replace it with the same amount of mashed banana or applesauce,” adds Gorin. You’ll also be surprised how reducing the amount of sugar called for in the original recipe has almost no impact on the resulting flavor. These small adjustments can cut down on calories and fat while increasing fiber and protein to help you stay more satisfied.
Make it a habit to schedule your workouts on your calendar just like you would any other appointment. “You would make an appointment to get your hair or nails done before a holiday party, so schedule your workout and mark it on the calendar in the same way,” suggests Gorin. Not only can exercise reduce the holiday stress, but it may also help boost your energy levels in the winter months as well.
Individuals who track what they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. Whether your goal for the holiday season is to lose weight or prevent weight gain, keeping a detailed food journal is essential. Using a tool like MyFitnessPal can make it easy to track your food no matter where you go during the holidays. By being aware of what you’re eating, you’re more likely to stay on track with your goals.
Got any other tips to avoid weight gain during the holidays? Comment below!