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Expert advice on avoiding holiday weight gain

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Nov 19, 2018

The season of holidays is almost here beginning with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and Valentine’s Day. Even the best intentions of staying on track with your healthy lifestyle habits can be derailed during this time. One of those healthy lifestyle habits at risk of derailing may include watching your waistline. How do you get through each of the holiday celebrations without feeling as stuffed as the turkey?

It is estimated on average, Americans gain about one to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That may not sound like a lot, but that extra weight gained tends to not be lost and over the years it can accumulate. For instance, if you do gain a couple of pounds each year during the holiday season but fail to lose those pounds, within 10 years you will have gained an extra 20 pounds.

Gaining weight during the holiday season doesn’t have to be inevitable.  But, it is important for you to know how to take control of your eating habits instead of letting the holiday parties and get-togethers take control of you.  Having a plan to resist the temptation to splurge on large amounts of high-calorie foods, will get you through this season without sabotaging your weight maintenance or weight loss efforts.

Avoiding holiday weight gain

  • Don’t skip meals

Many people believe if they skip breakfast or lunch they can save up all those calories for the holiday party that night.  It sounds like a good idea but skipping meals can make you crabby and tired besides the obvious of making you very hungry.  Arriving at a party on an empty stomach only spells disaster as the odds are highly likely you’ll end up eating more calories than the ones you skipped earlier in the day.  Eat breakfast and lunch and you’ll be better prepared to avoid overeating.

Skipping meals will only result in a person being so hungry when they get to a holiday gathering they will eat far more than they intended to. Have a breakfast, a light lunch and maybe even a handful of grapes and almonds before leaving the house to quell any hunger you have right before the party.

  • Eat high fiber foods before the party

Snack on fiber-filled foods just before you go.  Fiber helps you feel full preventing you from eating more at the party.  Choose foods with minimal calories such as crisp, fresh vegetables, fruit, a small salad or a small bowl of oatmeal.

  • Eat small amounts of food you love

When you arrive check out the food selection at the party before you make any choices.  It’s okay to choose small portions of items like cookies, pie or chocolates, but fill up the majority of your plate – at least ¾ of the plate – with healthy vegetables, fruit, whole grain crackers, cheese and lean meats.

I always take a walk around the buffet table before I pick up my plate deciding which foods I really want and which ones I can avoid. That way I can stay focused on choosing healthier choices with just a few small portions of foods higher in calories.

  • Keep away from where the food is located

If you find yourself standing next to the counter or buffet table where all the irresistible, delicious food is displayed, move.   Choose your food and drink and move to a different part of the room, facing away from the food table.  As they say – out of sight, out of mind.

  • Pace yourself

Resist the urge to pile your plate high with food, eating it rapidly and then going back for seconds.  Slow down.  It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is getting full.  Set your fork down between bites chewing your food thoroughly and sip some water.  Sit down while you eat.  This prevents grazing around the food table.  Enjoy the company of the people around you at the party.  Engaging in a stimulating conversation is a great way to avoid overeating.

  • Limit your alcohol and calorie-laden beverage intake

It’s fun to try different beverages at a party, but gulping down liquid calories adds up quickly.

Start off with a non-calorie beverage to help fill you up initially before trying a beverage with calories.

  • Learn healthy ways to modify holiday recipes

Recipes can easily be modified to reduce the fat and calorie amounts without compromising flavor.  When a recipe calls for oil in cake, brownies or muffins, a good substitution can be equal amounts of a fruit puree such as applesauce.  The fruit will add flavor, moisture and tenderness to the baked good.  In place of whole fat milk products, substitute fat-free or low-fat milk.  Substitute nonfat, plain yogurt for sour cream.

  • Keep physically active

The National Weight Control Registry examined strategies of people who were successful at either controlling or even losing weight during the holiday season.  Their secret?  They maintained an active exercise routine each day and weighed themselves daily.   Cold winter weather doesn’t have to slow you down. In fact, embrace it.  Going outdoors for a brisk walk or even snowshoeing can be quite invigorating.  You’ll burn extra calories due to your body compensating for heat loss.  If exercising in the frigid outdoors is not your idea of a good time, join a gym or exercise class, invest in a treadmill or other exercise equipment you’ll use, use free exercise videos available on the internet or play music to get you moving.  Any extra movement you get in during the day all adds up.

Weight control can be a reality during the holidays

The holidays are meant to enjoy taking in the beautiful sights and sounds.  Food is a big part of the celebration of this time of year and as long as we make careful food choices and stay physically active, all of us can get through it without little to any weight gain. Enjoy the foods you do eat – just not too much – and really the most important thing is the time spent with family and friends during this beautiful season.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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