Whether it’s candied yams, stuffing, gravy, apple pie, Christmas cookies or egg nog, the holidays present a nearly endless parade of food temptations and opportunities for weight gain. Many of these rich and delicious but high-calorie foods are not available year-round and that may make us even more inclined to want to indulge, seizing the moment while we can.
As well, we probably associate some of these foods and beverages with fond memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past. It’s only natural that we turn to them for comfort and self-soothing during this stressful time of year. If we tend to people-please or find it challenging to say “no” or stand apart from the crowd in any way, that can make it extra hard to turn down delicacies when everyone else around us is partaking.
While there’s nothing wrong with a little holiday cheer and enjoyment with family, friends or office mates, there is some real risk of weight gain that we need to pay attention to during the holiday season.
Holiday Season Weight Gain is Real
While we may think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as just a few days out of the year, the holiday season as a whole in the United States lasts for a full five weeks – that’s a lot of time to be overindulging, especially during a dark and cold time of year when many of us tend to be more sedentary. Holiday weight gain is not your imagination – it’s real.
A 2016 study of holiday eating patterns and weight gain in the United States, Japan, and Germany using wireless scales found significant pounds weight gain around Christmas as well as around other national holidays such as Thanksgiving.
While half of the weight gained over these holidays was shed shortly after, the rest of those added pounds remained until the summer months or beyond, meaning, for most or perhaps even all of the year until the holiday season weight-gain cycle starts again.
It’s easy to see how holiday weight gain can become permanent weight gain, and that’s an awfully high price to pay for Thanksgiving or Christmas joy that none of us can afford.
The truth is that with all those social and culinary pressures and expectations it may not be possible to avoid weight gain altogether during the holiday season, but there are things we can do to keep it to a minimum. All we can do is our personal best and hopefully, make some improvements over last year!
Five Tips for Avoiding Holiday Season Weight Gain
Create a Personalized Plan
The truth is that avoiding weight gain during the holidays is going to take some thought and preparation – if it were easy, holiday weight gain wouldn’t be a problem for so many of us in the first place! You know your own personal weak spots and food and beverage temptations better than anyone.
So, while generalized tips are an excellent starting point, you’ll want to fine-tune those tips based on that old adage, “Know Thyself.” Some of us have a sweet tooth and need to really watch it or entirely avoid the dessert table while others of us fall for comfort foods like stuffing and creamy side and soups.
And, of course, no list of temptations would be complete without alcohol, especially those sugary mixed drinks that taste like candy but not only impair our judgment when overdone but also seriously expand our waistlines.
Start by reviewing your calendar for parties, dinners and other events that are going to be challenging. Notice especially when events are clustered together because this is when we are most likely to be consuming extra calories without much time in between to allow a return to healthier eating patterns and exercise and hopefully a chance to bring our bodies into balance and avoid those extra pounds before they start!
Party on top of party on top of party is a “recipe” for weight gain disaster. You might even consider skipping an event or two if there’s just too many scheduled too closely together. Plan your meals on your “off days,” those days without holiday events, in advance so you’ve got healthy staples like salads and low-fat soups ready to go when you need to rebalance and “detox” from all that holiday indulgence.
Eat Something Healthy Before You Go Out
You know how they say never to go food shopping when you’re hungry? Well, the same principle applies to parties and other holiday gatherings – don’t go out to festivities on an empty stomach because that’s inevitably going to put you at greater risk for unhealthy eating and overindulging.
Pre-party snacks don’t need to be anything elaborate or time-consuming. Fresh fruits such as apples or bananas, a handful of mixed nuts or some whole grain crackers and hummus before you head out can make a world of difference in your holiday eating habits. It’s basic biology – when your blood sugar is low you’re going to more prone to impulse eating and poor food and beverage choices.
Stack the odds in your favor by making sure you have room to partake and enjoy but that you’re not overly hungry from the moment you walk in the door.
Water Is Your Best Friend
It may sound boring and downright un-holiday-like, but choosing water is one of the best things you can do to prevent holiday weight gain before it starts. If you choose water over soft drinks, fruit juices, apple cider, alcoholic beverages, egg nog, hot chocolate or coffee drinks you are going to be way ahead of the holiday weight gain game.
We may typically associate holiday weight gain with food but beverages can also be a significant source of unnecessary calories from sugar and fat. If there’s sparkling water available, so much the better. But even if you’ve got no better options than the local tap water, having the discipline to avoid high-calorie beverages, to “Just Say No” to holiday weight gain in a glass, cup or mug is one of the best things you can do.
Another benefit of staying hydrated is that it creates a sense of fullness and reduces that risk that you’ll mistake thirst for hunger, which can often be confused with each other in our bodies and minds.
Keep Moving During the Holiday Season
Staying active can help boost your mood, reduce stress, burn calories and help you sleep better. Although the busyness of the holiday season can definitely make it more challenging to find the time to exercise, keeping active is so important during the holiday season to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Park your car at a distance or consider walking or taking the bus instead of driving whenever feasible. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk around the block and get some fresh air during your lunch hour. You might suggest a leisurely stroll with family and friends after a heavy holiday meal before dessert is served.
These outdoor pauses, even if the weather is not great, can be surprisingly refreshing. Being outside even briefly can allow extra time for a sense of fullness to register, provide an opportunity for a shared activity, and burn a few calories while you’re at it. The point is to find opportunities to move whenever and wherever you can to get to the gym or a yoga class or otherwise keep up with your usual fitness routine may be harder to come by.
Do the Best You Can During the Holiday Season
It can be tempting when we overeat to think that all is lost and use that as a reason to completely give in or give up. The food and beverage temptations during the holiday season are truly challenging for most of us. You’re not going to be perfect. You’ll win some battles and you’ll probably lose some, too. But the most important thing is to start each day anew.
Just because you succumbed the day before doesn’t mean that all is lost. Gaining five pounds over the holiday season is way better than gaining ten pounds! Progress, not perfection, is what it’s all about.
It’s OK to Enjoy the Holiday Season
Maintaining a healthy weight is important but so is joy. If you’re going to go ahead and partake of some holiday treats, at least appreciate them! Whatever you do, don’t get mired in guilt and self-recrimination, that’s only going to set you up for some serious self-loathing. It is the holiday season, after all, and no one wants to feel deprived.
So, choose your indulgences wisely and make them count.
You’re only human, after all!