9 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Tis the season to be jolly. And to eat and drink and indulge in all sorts of delicious things – and far more often than we normally would.
But all that wonderfulness can translate into tighter pants and loosened belts come January.
If you want to avoid that plumped-up holiday feeling, here are a few things to think about. Leslie Beck, a widely-consulted Toronto-based registered dietician and the author of 14 books on healthy eating, offers some general advice, some specific tips and a very sensible perspective.
“First of all, if you’ve been actively trying to lose weight, put that on hold for December,” she recommends. “Now is not the time to try and lose weight.”
Going into the holidays while still trying to diet can also backfire, she warns. “People think, ‘oh, well, I’ve already blown it by eating dessert, what difference does it make if I eat a few more of these’?”
Instead, she recommends dieters simply focus on maintaining their weight for the month of December, “which is a pretty great accomplishment for most people.”
Here, Beck’s top tips for handling all those temptations.
1. Have a party plan
Think, in advance of each event, about how much you’re going to eat. For example, how many courses will you order at the restaurant, or how many hors d’oeuvres will you have at the party? “Putting limits on what and how much you’re going to eat ahead of time will lower the odds that you’re going to overdo it,” says Beck. “Otherwise, you’re more likely to just cave in to whatever’s around you.
2. Don’t arrive hungry
“Take the edge off your appetite before you go to a party or an event by having a protein-rich snack, like a handful of nuts, a small tub of Greek yogurt, a healthy energy bar or even a bowl of soup.” This strategy will help you eat less when you get there.
3. Forget ‘saving up’ calories
There’s no point in skipping breakfast or lunch so you can really dig in later, says Beck. “That usually backfires. You’ll arrive hungry and eat more than you intended to.”
4. Pass on the mundane
Don’t reach for the hors d’oeuvres you can eat any time of the year (like pate, or cheese and crackers). Instead, enjoy the special holiday foods you don’t normally get — but in moderation.
5. Opt for lower-fat, lower-calorie options
“Reaching for things like smoked salmon, shrimp and cocktail sauce, chicken satay, sushi, or cold, fresh spring rolls are all great choices,” says Beck. “Antipasto on crackers is also a good alternative to cheese and crackers.”
6. Be firm with food pushers
A polite ‘no thanks’ will go a long way when dealing with people who love to see you indulge. “Whether it’s a co-worker who brings home-baked cookies to the office or a relative who won’t take no for an answer, be polite but be assertive.”
7. Limit your alcohol
It’s not just about drinking and driving, although that’s always a concern — at any time of year. “Alcohol delivers calories and it also lowers your inhibitions — including the one that usually tells you to eat mindfully and healthily,” says Beck. She advises you to limit your alcohol to no more than one drink per hour, the amount of time it takes your liver to metabolize one standard drink. Then intersperse the alcoholic drinks with sparkling or still water (mixed with a bit of cranberry juice if you want to add flavour).
“And be very mindful of servers,” she cautions. “If you’re at a dinner and a server is constantly coming around topping up your wine glass you’ll lose track of how much you’re drinking. Don’t allow it to be refilled until it’s empty.”
8. Eat slowly
“It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register you’ve had enough to eat,” Beck reminds us, “so engage in conversation and focus on friends and family in order to slow down the pace.”
9. Remember to get moving
Fitting some exercise — any exercise — into the holidays is especially important. “Even a 15-miniute power walk will burn calories and help to reduce your appetite and it just helps strengthen your willpower to stick to your eating plan.”
While some people will inevitably gain weight over the holidays, most people don’t gain much, says Beck. “There’s a bit of a myth out there. You often hear that most people gain five pounds but the reality is, according to earlier research from The Journal of New England Medicine, holiday weight gain is actually quite slight. The average adult, according to this study, gained only a pound.”
But there’s a caveat.
“Although it’s only one pound and it’s very slight, it can tend to accumulate year after year and contribute to that ‘middle-aged spread’.”
“Allow yourself a few slip-ups,” advises Beck. “And allow yourself to enjoy the holidays.”