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You’ve heard the shocking statistics: the average American gains five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! (Or something equally shocking.) Do I buy it? Not exactly, as a person would have to eat an extra 500 calories every day to gain that much weight in that time frame. I do believe, however, that the holiday season sets us up for possible weight gain. Not only do the holidays tend to revolve around big family meals, but there’s also usually lots of goodies lurking in the break room at work. Holiday parties and travel make it hard to stick to a regular workout routine or eating schedule. Alcohol flows like water. It’s a setup. I get it, but if you have a plan, you can navigate the holidays without weight gain and still enjoy yourself!
Here’s how to get through the holidays sans unwanted five pounds.
- Scan the buffet. Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want instead of going through the line and taking some of everything.
- Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later. This strategy almost always backfires, as you will likely get so hungry that you’ll end up eating more than planned. Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so you don’t arrive ravenous.
- Keep a glass of water in hand. If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t hungry. If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated.
- Choose your beverage wisely. Eggnog is awesome, but it’s a calorie bomb, too. Limit your intake of high calorie beverages such as eggnog (or anything with cream), margaritas, and white Russians. Your best bet? A heart-healthy glass of red wine.
- Dance. If there’s a dance floor at the party, hit it up. Not only does dancing count as exercise, but it’s pretty hard to mindlessly eat while getting your boogey on!
- Don’t eat just to be nice. It’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever other sugar-laden goodie calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there. If you’re getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say, “No thanks, I had some cookies earlier.” One little white lie won’t guarantee you coal in your stocking.
- Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A likeminded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to overdo it. Also, just telling someone your plan (say, to have only one cookie) will help you stick to it.
- Remove yourself from the situation. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats, don’t spend too much time there drooling over them.
At family gatherings:
- Set boundaries and know when to say no. Have a plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy family members. Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not weight, such as by saying, “No thank you, I’m watching my cholesterol,” instead of saying you’re watching your weight. Your crazy aunt who thinks you’re perfect and don’t need to diet may get pushy about trying her dessert, but she likely won’t want to raise your cholesterol!
- Bring a nutritious dish of your own, such as a veggie tray or vegetable-based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts. Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate; at least one-fourth of your plate should be veggies.
- Have a game plan. As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating. The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e., “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e., “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”).
- If you’ll be traveling for the holidays, bring plenty of your own healthy snacks (nuts, anyone?) to stave off hunger and avoid potential cookie binges.
- Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you’re invited to. Prioritize the parties you really want to or feel you should attend, and let the others pass by with a polite, “Sorry, I already have plans.” It’s okay if your plans include staying home and hitting the hay early.
- As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want, as this often backfires and makes you want them more (and eat more when you finally do give in). Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
- Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress. Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating. Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health. Do your best to get back on track, and don’t beat yourself up over it.
- Stick to your training schedule, at least as much as possible. Don’t be an all-or-nothing person; a little exercise is better than none. If you’re limited for time, focus on short, intense workouts, such as thirty minutes of interval training.
- Lastly, change your attitude. Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about. Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends. Start a non-food-related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals.
Read Jen's original post and more powerful nutrition advice on her personal blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness.
Jen is a registered dietician, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group.