The holiday season may look different this year, but one thing remains the same: this is the time that many of us gain unwanted weight. While the exact figures vary, on average, adults in Western countries gain one extra pound during the holiday season. Those who are already overweight are likely to gain more than this.1
One pound – no big deal, right? But here’s the thing: many of us who gain that pesky weight never manage to lose it throughout the year. Holiday weight gain is the main contributor to the total weight you gain in a given year.2 Year after year, those extra pounds add up.
So, what’s a person to do? You could follow through on your New Year’s resolution and hit the gym extra hard come January. But let’s be honest, the easier option is to avoid that unwanted weight gain in the first place. Here’s how.
Be Aware Of The Common Culprits For Weight Gain
The holiday season is filled with sweets, alcohol, and cheesy-carby-gooey foods. And while you don’t have to abstain completely, it helps to be aware of the foods that may cause you to gain weight. Here are some common culprits for holiday weight gain:
- Baked goods – like cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Candies – especially sweets that are left out in bowls and can be easily snacked on
- Alcoholic drinks – like beer, wine, and specialty holiday cocktails
- Sneaky side dishes that contain heavy creams, cheeses, and carbs (including traditional side dishes like sweet yams)
This time of year, it can be tough to say “no” to delicious treats. And while it’s okay to occasionally treat yourself, it’s important to know which foods are best to enjoy in moderation.
In other words: savor that scoop of holiday yams if you look forward to it all year. But be sure you know which foods are healthy and which might lead to weight gain so you don’t accidentally consume unexpected calories. If you’re going to eat less healthy food, acknowledge that you’re treating yourself – and make up for it by filling up the rest of your plate with a green salad or other healthy veggies.
Choose These Healthy (And Still Delicious) Alternatives
You can still have your cake (and cookies, and eggnog…) and eat it too. The secret is to create healthier versions of the holiday foods you love. Think about all of the holiday-related foods that can be replaced by better alternatives. Here are some ideas:
- Enjoy holiday cookies with added protein or fiber – these may help keep you satisfied with less of a sugar load.
- Opt for sugar-free eggnog.
- Use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil in baked goods.
- Add a small amount of natural sweetener, like honey or maple syrup, instead of refined sugar in your sweets.
If you’re preparing holiday treats yourself, you can make these substitutions at home. If you’re looking to purchase healthier treats this year, look for options that are low in refined sugars or carbs. Don’t be afraid to ask for a list of ingredients, and shop around.
Be Mindful Of Your Portions
If that slice of pie is calling your name, allow yourself to try some, but watch your portion size. The same advice extends to all of the goodies on the holiday buffet table. Savor the flavor of your favorite treats in small amounts, and fill up on healthier options.
Prepare Yourself To Resist Those Treats
If you know you’re going to be tempted with unhealthy foods, make a plan to set yourself up for success. Here are a few ideas for how you can mentally and physically prepare:
- If you’re going to a gathering, eat something healthy at home so you don’t show up starving. This may help with portion control.
- Drink a lot of water at home. This may help give you a feeling of fullness so you don’t accidentally overeat.
Mentally prepare by deciding what you’ll indulge in and what you’ll skip before you show up.
- If you’re planning to spend the holidays at home, these tips can still apply. Fill up on healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and consider giving those cookies away (or never welcoming them into your house to begin with).
Keep Drinking That Water
Yes, drinking water really can help. Believe it or not, the body loses water even during the cold weather. Staying hydrated helps your body maintain its muscle mass, which naturally helps your metabolism burn calories. Water also serves as a natural appetite suppressor, so you may end up eating fewer calories, too.3,4
Keep Up Your Daily Exercise
If you plan to eat more than usual this season, try to keep up your daily exercise routine as much as possible. Avoid the “forget it, I’m already being bad” mentality. One tip to incorporate healthy exercise habits? Change your lifestyle, not just your diet. Here are a few simple ways to add exercise into your daily routine:
- Find a walking buddy, and make a commitment to work up to 10,000 steps of walking daily.
- Share your exercise plans with your partner or a friend, and invite them to join you.
- You may even want to post pictures of your daily workouts on social media to help keep you motivated.
Among its many benefits, exercise has been shown to actually help decrease your appetite.5 So the benefits are twofold: you’ll burn calories, and you’ll prevent yourself from overindulging at your next holiday gathering.
Last But Not Least: Enjoy In Moderation
What about alcohol, mashed potatoes, candy, [insert your favorite treat here]? You don’t want to get to a place where you feel like you are restricting yourself so much that you aren’t enjoying the season. So remember — moderation is key. Certain indulgences can be enjoyed on occasion without repercussions.
Be kind to yourself. Give in to the impulse to indulge in a few treats. And be kind to your future self by avoiding holiday weight gain you’ll regret later.
Looking for a healthy holiday treat recipe? You should try Dr. Amy Lee’s Skinny Mint Chocolate Cookie Recipe!