It’s that special time of year again, and everything seems to be piling up—the snow outside, the presents under your tree, and unfortunately the holiday weight. While recent studies tell us holiday weight gain is often exaggerated (most people gain just one pound between Thanksgiving and Christmas), that weight doesn’t go away. The news is even worse for people who are already overweight. One study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that overweight people gain five pounds or more during the holidays, and keep that weight for the rest of their lives.
Part of the problem is that the holidays don’t just represent one day or even a few days. They’re a period of several weeks in which most people set their diet aside and fill up their plates, all in the name of enjoying the season.
“I think the number of people who only overeat at the Thanksgiving meal is slim to none,” explains Holly Hull, lead researcher on a University of Oklahoma study that examined holiday weight gain in college students. “You have this period that extends through the New Year where there’s more alcohol, more finger foods, and appetizers that are energy dense.”
A mentioned in the gumtree blog though, you don’t have to be part of the weight-gaining crowd—and you don’t have to decrease your holiday enjoyment either. Here are eight simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain and still make the best of the most wonderful time of the year.
1. Keep a Food Diary and Scale Handy
The first thing you need to do is keep yourself responsible. When you’re surrounded by temptations, it’s easy to pop one or two things into your mouth and forget about it. It’s also easy to pack away the bathroom scale until January.
Keeping a food diary will keep you honest and thoughtful about your food choices. Weighing yourself twice weekly will help you see the impact of your decisions. When you’re aware that weight gain is happening, it’s easier to prevent it.
2. Snack on Healthy Foods Before You Arrive at a Party
Never arrive at a holiday party hungry—it’s a recipe for December disaster. Instead, fill up on healthy snacks beforehand and then it will be easier to ignore the buffet table.
You can even bring some low-calorie treats to share. That way, the rest of the energy-dense foods on the table won’t look as appetizing. And who knows, you may even be helping out other who are watching their waistline this season.
3. Redirect Your Attention from Food
Remember, the holidays aren’t just about food.
“Don’t look at the party as just a food event,” advises New York psychologist Carol Goldberg. “Enjoy your friends’ company or dancing. Focus on something other than food.”
Holidays are a time to be with the people you love, so try to actually be with them. When you get caught up in socializing, your attention won’t be on the plate of cookies across the room.
4. Choose Small Plates and Simple Foods
Another way to outsmart the snacks is to choose the smallest plate possible and refuse to stack your food. Since most holiday foods are served buffet-style, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
When choosing your foods, try to go for the simplest ones available. Susan Finn, chairwoman of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition, recommends looking for foods like fruits, vegetables, and shrimp cocktail. Watch out for dips and sauces—these can add calories to your diet faster than you can say “Frosty the Snowman.”
5. Avoid Too Much Alcohol
Here’s another party tip—watch your alcohol intake. Fancy cocktails can be fun during the winter holidays, but are bad for your health, and often come with huge calorie counts.
Even non-alcoholic drinks can be dangerous. Eggnog, for example, carries a whopping 340 calories per glass. And when you add a jigger of rum, it skyrockets to 440 calories—nearly the equivalent of a full meal.
Instead, if you’re going to drink, try to stick to 100-calorie drinks. Most light beers or a glass of wine fit this bill, as does hard alcohol mixed with club soda.
6. Cut Back on ‘Tasting’ While Cooking
Whether you’re contributing to a holiday meal or preparing one all by yourself, chances are you’ll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen this season.
The kitchen is a hotbed for unplanned and uncounted calories, so make sure to be on your guard. A few mindless tastes every few minutes can lead to a full stomach and a whole lot of calories.
Instead, Ms. Finn recommends that you limit yourself to two small bites of your cooking pre- and post-seasoning. If your dish is something you can prepare in your sleep, challenge yourself not to taste-test at all.
7. Go for Holiday Walks
If you’ve broken a few rules, no need to despair—make up for it with extra exercise. A great way to do this is to take a holiday walk with your family.
With the cold weather, a walk around the block may not sound appealing, but it can be fun. And remember, you burn more calories when it’s cold outside. Bundle up the kids and go for a stroll around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights—you won’t regret it.
8. Always Stay Positive
Even if you overeat despite your best efforts, don’t despair. You can have a couple of bad days; just make sure to get back on track the next day.
If at the end of the year you find yourself five pounds heavier, just remind yourself that the New Year is a great time to start a weight loss program. Many gyms capitalize on the weight loss fervor and offer discounted rates, and other dieting aids go on sale. Just don’t lose your ambition like so many dieters do.
Enjoy Your Holidays!
Sticking to diet rules doesn’t have to turn you into the Grinch. Focus on what really matters—your friends and family—and you’ll enjoy the season just as much as you would have with a few extra treats.
Keeping all this in mind, enjoy your holidays!
Mike Jackson is nutritional consultant at www.eSupplements.com, as well as a freelance writer in the field of health and fitness. He specializes in physique transformation and contest preparation for all levels of competition.