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Don’t Gain, Maintain Your Weight Through the Holidays

party foodLike it or not, the holiday season is upon us. It seems to come earlier and earlier every year. And, for those who like to indulge in holiday treats, it’s a real challenge to maintain your weight through the holidays. 

Many of us go into the holiday season with relative abandon. We’ll lose the weight when we get on our diet and exercise plan in the New Year, right? Unfortunately, for most people, it doesn’t quite work out that way. Despite our good intentions, New Year resolutions rarely stick, and we’re stuck with the damage of our holiday excesses.

This year, get ahead of the game. Don’t wait until January 1. Make a resolution now, not to go on a diet, but to follow these simple, common sense strategies throughout the holiday season.

Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

  1. Practice portion control. ‘Tis the season for stuffing ourselves. Whether it’s leftover Halloween candy, platters of food at Thanksgiving, or all of those Christmas cookies; keep proper portion sizes in mind.
  2. Stay active. With the weather getting colder and days getting shorter, it’s easy to go into hibernation mode. But, whatever you do, don’t give in to temptation. Regular physical activity will not only help you maintain your weight, but it will also help you manage stress, sleep better at night, battle seasonal depression, and give you more energy. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking, each day.
  3. Take the focus off the food. Let’s face it, most of our social engagements tend to center around food regardless of the time of year. But during the holiday season, there seems to be no end to the parties and the treats. This year, try taking the focus off the food. Get your friends and family outside and active with a walk or a friendly game of football. Instead of sitting around a dining room table getting way too full, why not spend the day volunteering at a soup kitchen or animal shelter? Organize a fun scavenger hunt before or after Christmas dinner to keep snacking to a minimum.
  4. Watch out for high calorie beverages. Hot cocoa, eggnog, pumpkin spice lattes, cocktails, and other tasty seasonal drinks can easily top out at 300-400+ calories for a 16 ounce drink. If you can’t avoid them altogether, try to make smart swaps by ordering a small or by asking for sugar-free syrups and low-fat milk.
  5. Practice mindful eating. When we eat, we are often distracted by something like the television, work, or our phones. Rarely do we ever just focus on the act of eating. Studies show that by staying present and eating mindfully, we can eat fewer calories with greater satisfaction. Plus, with all of the delicious foods available at this time of year, we really should give them the attention and appreciation they deserve. So, the next time you eat, practice staying in the moment. Turn the television off. Put away your phone. Step away from the desk. Don’t think about anything other than the food you are eating and how your body feels as you eat it. Take your time and truly enjoy your food.
  6. Weigh yourself regularly. Research shows that people who weigh themselves at least once a week are more successful at maintaining weight than those who don’t weigh themselves at all. Stepping on the scale provides accountability and awareness, allowing you to make changes before your pants no longer fit. Try to be consistent with your weigh-ins. Weigh at the same time under the same conditions (like first thing in the morning before breakfast), and don’t weigh yourself more than once a day.
  7. Make sure treats are extra special. With so many tempting goodies this time of year, why waste your calories on so-so junk foods. Save your splurges for things you truly love and can only get during the holidays. You can eat chips any time of year, but Aunt Sue’s famous apple pie may only be available at Thanksgiving. Plan to enjoy those special treats, and say no to the everyday junk.
  8. Minimize the damage. Even though the holiday season seems to be spread out over the course of a few months, the true holidays only consist of a couple of days. So give yourself permission to splurge on those couple of days, but limit it to just those days. Don’t let leftovers sit around the house, and don’t give in to buying extra junk food at the grocery store just because it’s available. If you let holiday goodies surround you throughout the season, it’s easy for a couple of days to turn into a couple of months of going overboard.
  9. Use small plates or napkins at parties. Studies show that the larger the plate or container we are eating from, the more we will eat without even realizing it, and when eating off of smaller plates, we are equally satisfied with less food. Take advantage of this psychological trick, and stick with a small plate at your next holiday gathering. Better yet, only use a napkin for snacks at parties. It’s nearly impossible to overload a napkin!
  10. Make sure half of your plate is full of fruits and/or vegetables. One of the easiest things you can do to make sure you are staying on a healthy track is to follow the USDA MyPlate guidelines. Always aim to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. These (typically) lower calorie foods will fill you up without filling you out, so you have less room for higher calorie, less healthy foods.
  11. Plan ahead and avoid unnecessary temptations. The more you can plan ahead, the better off you will be. Plan your meals and snacks in advance to make sure you stay on track and avoid getting too hungry. If you know you have a dinner or party to attend, make sure the rest of your day is extra healthy.
  12. Make healthier versions of traditional holiday recipes or start new ones. A quick Google search is all you need to find recipes to make your holiday favorites healthier. Simple swaps like cutting back on sugar, replacing oil with applesauce in baked goods, or using lower fat dairy products can make a huge difference in the healthfulness of your holiday dinner. And, if your family is on board, try some new holiday dishes that center around tasty seasonal vegetables rather than sugars, starches, and fats.

It may take a little extra effort to stay healthy during the holiday season, but it’s much easier to maintain weight than it is to lose it later. You don’t have to, nor should you, completely deprive yourself of holiday treats. It’s all about balance. So enjoy your food, eat your fruits and vegetables, stay active, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

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About Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master's Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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