Many people trying to avoid holiday weight gain end up doing exactly what they shouldn’t: being overly restrictive during the most festive time of year. While their intentions to prevent weight gain (and perhaps shed a few pounds in the meantime) are good, being overly restrictive with food can backfire, especially during the holidays when we’re faced with indulgent food, festivities, and higher-than-normal stress levels.
The keys to avoiding unwanted weight gain this time of year: Strive for balance and moderation when it makes sense. But also try not to abandon your healthy habits altogether. You’ve worked too hard all year to just give up now and “restart” in the new year.
Try implementing some of these simple strategies to make the hectic holiday months a bit more balanced.
1. Stick with your healthy habits during the week.
Don’t get caught up in the holiday bustle and let your regular meal planning or workout routine fall to the wayside. Continue to incorporate nutritious meals and exercise into your usual work week, when your schedule is more structured. This will give you a little more wiggle room for indulging or kicking back and relaxing a bit on the weekend.
2. Go booze-free Sunday through Thursday.
If a glass of wine, craft beer, or cocktail is part of your evening ritual, consider doing without your nightly drink during the holiday season. Like soda, alcohol is a source of empty calories and, over the course of a month or so, those nightcap calories really add up. If you want to avoid holiday weight gain, save your alcohol calories for festivities with friends or family on the weekend; just make sure to drink in moderation.
3. Select a smaller plate.
Research shows that the bigger the plate we take, the bigger the portion we put on it. One study in particular found that Chinese buffet diners with large plates served 52 percent more, ate 45 percent more, and wasted 135 percent more food than those with smaller plates. Nine-inch plates (versus 12-inch dinner plates) make normal portions look more filling, but go too small though and you’ll be more inclined to go back for seconds.
The takeaway this season? Pass by those oversized dinner plates and undersized appetizer dishes at holiday parties and go for a more moderate-sized salad plate instead.
4. Portion out holiday fare.
We all know eating directly from the package is an invitation to over-consume, but the same goes for oversized bowls of chips, dips, and appetizer platters at parties. Instead of grabbing directly from the table at a holiday gathering, take a salad-sized plate and serve yourself a moderate-sized portion of a few of your favorite party foods.
5. Eat only the foods you love.
You’ve only got so much space on your plate, so don’t fill it with foods you feel lukewarm about. If you’re going to indulge in one serving of high-calorie finger foods at a party, go for the ones that will bring you the most enjoyment; just strive to keep the amount modest.
Seasonal treats — such as homemade holiday meals, decadent desserts, and cocktails — aren’t truly enjoyable if they just leave you feeling regretful afterwards. So, if you’re going to torture yourself after you eat a treat, maybe reconsider it. But, if you’re going to allow yourself a cheat, savor it, accept it, and then move on.
6. Put off pre-dinner drinks.
Not only is alcohol a sneaky source of empty calories, but research also suggests it makes us more inclined to overeat. Alcohol appears to sensitize the brain’s response to food aromas, which can lead us to eat more. This study suggests that having just a couple of drinks before a meal will likely increase your food consumption, so, if you’ve got a party to go to, opt for one or two after-dinner drinks instead. By doing so, you’ll be less likely to overeat, and get the added benefit of having some food in your stomach to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
7. Schedule one active outing for every holiday celebration on your calendar.
Participate in a holiday race, coordinate a family hike, spend an afternoon cross-country skiing, or sign up for a special workout class with a friend before the party begins! If it helps your motivation to get outside in colder temperatures, invest in one or two new pieces of athletic wear to keep you warm.
8. Sign up for a run, walk, or ride — and train with friends.
No matter what way you enjoy being active, there are lots of fun races happening during the holidays. New Year’s Day races are a great way to stay motivated since you’ll have to train during the hectic holiday season. Plus, you’re less likely to blow it out at a party the night before! Encourage friends and family members to get involved for added fun and motivation.
9. Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation not only messes with your mind, but it also makes you feel hungrier, too. When deprived of sleep, the body produces more ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” that increases your desire to eat. It’s not always easy to do but, by getting enough sleep, your body will be better at regulating hunger and you’ll be less likely to overeat.
10. Bring your favorite healthy(ish) dish to parties.
To make sure you’ll have a healthier option you enjoy at holiday gatherings, bring your own dish to share. Wow fellow guests with cheesy, easy-to-eat cauliflower nachos or breadsticks, or bake up a dish of this eggplant parm for a simple, serve-yourself appetizer.
11. Get a jump start on next year’s health goals.
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, you need to make sustainable, healthy choices so frequently that they turn into habits. The sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be — and the less overwhelming those New Year’s resolutions to slim down and shape up will feel.
The key here is not meeting the goal weight loss during the holidays, but rather making small, specific changes that can have a big impact over time. Try replacing soda with water at mealtimes, planning two healthy meals for the week every Sunday, or scheduling an at-home strength training session for 30 minutes three days per week.
Avoiding holiday weight gain isn’t easy, but it’s also not as hard as you may think. Put these strategies into practice and enjoy the holidays with friends and family. If, come January 1, you’re still hovering around your current weight, consider that a win!