As we enter this final month of the year, we also enter the season of eating, drinking and holiday parties. A study done through Cornell University discovered that people gain, on average, around 13 pounds over the holiday season, beginning in October/November and peaking at Christmas. (6) They also discovered that, while half of the weight came off with relative ease, starting in the new year, the other half took nearly 5 months to lose. (6)
So, just what is a health conscious foodie to do? How do you navigate the food, desserts and holiday parties without packing on weight? Is it inevitable to gain weight over the holidays or can a person navigate the season in a health conscious way, without the excess pounds? It is ABSOLUTELY possible to make it through this beautiful season in one piece: happy, healthy, and the same weight.
- Don’t start any “diets” right now. Instead, try to maintain your current weight. It’s hard enough to diet during the rest of the year, under the best circumstances. It’s nearly impossible to diet during the holidays. The holiday season is a happy time, meant to be enjoyed. Have fun….Just don’t go overboard.
- Don’t skip meals. It’s tempting to skip meals during the holidays, especially with all the treats, parties and family dinners. This is a big mistake. Skipping meals can lead to binging on unhealthy foods. Try to stick to your usual eating routine. I like the 85/15 method. Eat healthy 85% of the time, and have fun 15% of the time. The 15% can be the parties, cookies and holiday meals. The rest of the time, it should be business as usual. It’s also recommended to eat 5 to 6 small meals a day. This curbs hunger, prevents binging, keeps metabolism buzzing, and stabilizes blood sugar. (7)
- Make sure to eat a healthy breakfast, which includes protein. As your mother used to say, breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day. Every morning, your body has been fasting for at least 12 hours. Eating breaks that fast. Individuals who eat breakfast weigh less on average than people who do not. Adding protein increases satiety (fullness), helps you eat FEWER daily calories, lowers risk of type 2 diabetes, and improves daily food choice.
- Be careful of liquid calories. Not only are the holidays known for the food, but alcohol and sugary beverages as well. These beverages add empty, unwanted calories to your diet. You go to a party, drink one beer and one 20 ounce soda, and you’ve added over 400 calories to your day. Not only does alcohol add extra calories, it lessens inhibitions, which can lead to over eating. What’s your best bet….WATER! I know it’s boring, but it will allow you to indulge in other holiday goodies. 😉
- Limit “BIG MEALS” to one per day. In other words, if you have a big family meal coming up, make the other 4 or 5 meals that day light and healthy. This will keep your blood sugar stable and prevent you from over eating at your family meal.
- Bring a healthy dish to the party/meal. This way, you ensure there is at least one healthy thing for you to eat.
- Keep track of what you eat. This is recommended all year, but is especially helpful during the holidays. Write everything down (every bite!) or track it with one of the many smart phone apps available. This will help you track your calories, so you can stick to your goals.
- Eat BEFORE you go to a party. Have one of your 6 meals prior to going to a party. Again, this curbs your appetite, stabilizes blood sugar and prevents binging.
- Keep healthy snacks at the office. Inevitably, people will bring holiday treats to the office to share. Your healthy snacks will keep you from being tempted by these delicious treats.
- Watch portion sizes. This strategy is helpful when you do give into temptation or perhaps during the family meal. You can have the fun food, in the proper portions.
- Keep exercising. Studies show that individuals who lose weight and keep it off exercise 60 to 90 minutes per day, at least 5 days a week. Continuing your exercise routine during the holidays will help keep off that nasty holiday weight. It can be broken up into small segments. For example six 10-minute sessions are just as effective as one 60 minute session.
- Choose your “cheat” times. This will allow you to stick to your normal eating routine, without feeling deprived. If you have a party or family meal coming up, work that into your “cheat” schedule. For example, if you eat 5 meals a day and eat 85/15, as suggested in number 2, you would eat 35 meals a week, and 5 of those meals during the week could be “cheat” meals. This could be used as an entire day, (all 5 meals at once) or 1 meal every few days, which ever works best for you.
- Fill your plate with a rainbow of fruit and vegetables. Your plate can be just as fun and colorful as the holiday decorations which surround you. The best way to maintain your weight during this season is to make sure plants form the foundation of your diet, just as they do during the rest of the year. All of these plants have the added benefit of increasing your fiber intake, another necessity of a healthy diet.
- Eat your veggies first. By eating your veggies before any other food, you’ll fill your stomach with these high fiber gems, making less room for the fattening foods.
- MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL….Don’t feel guilty! Remember, the holiday’s are a time to celebrate, and have fun with family and friends. Go ahead and indulge a bit, just don’t go overboard. If you do go overboard, don’t worry about it. Just go back to your healthy eating as soon as you can. Getting healthy is a journey on the path of life. When you go overboard, it’s just a stumble on the path. Get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going.
Well, there you have it everyone. Being healthy isn’t an all or nothing proposition. That’s no way to live. You can have your cake and eat it too, just be smart about it. The most important thing is you enjoy this special time with your loved ones.