The holidays sure are tasty, but all those calorie-dense, sugary, and fatty treats can add up to an average gain of a pound to a pound and a half a year. Most Americans carry that holiday weight with them until the next year, when they pack on another pound or two. Over time, extra holiday calories can add up to a case of overweight or obesity.
The solution is to avoid overeating at the holidays. It’s not hard to avoid gaining holiday weight while still enjoying your favorite foods — it just takes a little discipline. Make your own holiday meals healthier by serving more fruits and vegetables. Flavor your dishes with spices instead of salt, butter, or cream. Eat before hitting the mall or heading out to a party. When you’re socializing over a meal or a buffet, take care that you control your portion sizes.
Prepare Healthy Holiday Foods
When you’re hosting a meal or party in your own home, you have a lot more control over what you eat. Even if you’re going to someone else’s house for a celebration, you can still exert some control over what you eat by bringing along a dish that you know is healthy. Eating fruits and vegetables helps curb your appetite so you’re less likely to overindulge on rich deserts and holiday specialties. If you’re taking drugs like Lipitor or Zetia to control high cholesterol, foods that are high in fiber or omega-3 fatty acids are a safe bet.
Sweet potatoes are a high-fiber, nutrient-rich holiday staple — serve them roasted and drizzled with maple syrup. Winter squash is another option. Brussels sprouts are also low in calories while being packed with fiber and antioxidants. Try apple dishes to help control your cholesterol over the holidays. Small servings of unsalted nuts, or fatty fish like salmon, can also help you make the holidays merry without expanding your waistline. When cooking for the holidays, take it easy on the butter, salt, and lard.
Never Leave the House Hungry
If you know you’ve got a holiday meal or party later, it’s tempting to skip a meal or two in order to “save” calories for later. But you’ll eat far more if you show up ravenous than you would if you ate normally throughout the day. Enjoy a normal breakfast and a light lunch before heading out to a holiday dinner. Snack on some fresh fruit or a salad before leaving for a dinner party. If you’re going out shopping, make sure you eat first; that way, you’ll be less tempted by food kiosks in the mall.
Control Your Portions
If you try to deprive yourself of holiday treats altogether, you’ll likely just crack and gorge yourself. Instead, allow yourself to eat reasonable amounts of your favorite holiday foods. Avoid overindulging by taking some time to settle in to a party before hitting the buffet. Use a small plate, and sample just two or three items per trip — too much variety could stimulate your appetite, leading you to overeat.
When you attend a dinner party or other event where food is being served, you can limit your eating by removing yourself physically from the vicinity of the buffet table. When snacks are out of arm’s reach, you’ll eat less. It’s also a good idea to limit yourself to eating your favorite holiday treats — indulge in those special items that you can only enjoy during the holiday season, and leave the more common foods on the table.
Keep Track of What You Eat
Keeping a food diary can be a good way to control your calorie intake over the holiday season, as long as you’re honest about what you’re eating. Smartphone food diaries make it easy to keep track of your calorie intake.
When you treat yourself to a sugar cookie or a square of Grandma’s homemade fudge, make sure to remove something else from your daily diet to make up for the extra calories. You can skip your morning latte or your afternoon snack, for example.
If diligently tracking every bite you eat isn’t your bag, weighing yourself every day can help. In one study, women who weighed themselves every day and adjusted their diet and exercise plans accordingly were 82 percent less likely to gain weight than those who didn’t weigh themselves as often. Of course, holiday bloat can make you seem like you’re gaining fat weight when you’re not, really, and for some, peering at a scale every day can be traumatic. If that’s that case, try putting on your favorite pair of jeans once or twice a week. As long as they still fit, you’re in the clear. If they feel tight, it’s time to eat a little less and exercise a little more.
Rich, high-calorie foods are everywhere during the holidays, and resisting temptation is futile. But you can enjoy reasonable amounts of your favorite holiday foods without gaining an ounce. All you have to do is remember that eating healthy and controlling your portions is more important in the long run than scarfing that extra slice of pie.