It’s holiday season again and there’s plenty of time to prepare so you can avoid holiday weight gain. If you are like me, you don’t want to make your New Year’s resolution centered around dieting (again)!
Holidays are a celebration of family and friends and having good times with those we care about. They don’t necessarily need to be centered around food. This requires a mindset change, but once you implement some of the suggestions below, you will really appreciate it once the holidays are over and you have maintained your pre-holiday weight.
While there’s no magic pill to prevent holiday weight gain (sorry), there are several ways you can try to maintain your weight during the holidays and still enjoy celebrating with family and friends.
These are My Top 8 tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain:
1. Don’t Make it an Entire Season of Holiday Eating
Most holidays are only ONE day, not an entire season lasting from October 1 to January 1st. It starts in early October when we are just starting to get excited about the Halloween and it ends with a big food and drink fest for New Year’s Eve, with lots of celebrations in between. No wonder most people can’t avoid holiday weight gain. There are so many temptations, but unfortunately that isn’t going to change. The problem comes when you tell yourself that it’s the “holiday season” and you give yourself a pass for three months.
There is no need to make this time of year a season of eating and out of the norm indulgences. Instead of giving yourself a 3-month pass, try giving yourself a 3-day pass instead. Save your pass for when you will really enjoy it, like when you can enjoy your aunt’s holiday stuffing or your mother’s holiday cookies.
When you hand in your pass, enjoy every bite and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty.
2. Eat at Home before an Event
When you have been invited to a holiday event and you know there won’t be any healthy options, try eating a healthy meal right before going to the event. I use this technique all the time since sometimes it difficult to find plant-based options living in the Midwest since we do love our meat, potatoes, dairy and fried foods here. This is a great option when you have time to eat before an event.
Try eating something with a good amount of fiber so it fills you up and you won’t be tempted once you get to the party. A big bowl of hearty soup, a large salad with beans or a protein smoothie are all great options.
Just don’t go to a party hungry!
3. Bring a Healthy Plate to Pass
If you are planning on bringing a dish to the next holiday party, this is the easiest way to have healthy options while you are out celebrating. There will most likely be other people who will appreciate a healthier option as well. Some great party dish ideas are a veggie and hummus tray, a large salad with pomegranate arils, roasted vegetables with quinoa, guacamole, and fruit salad. Jump on over to my Pinterest page for some healthy holiday main dish recipes and healthier dessert recipes.
4. Skip Snacking
Often times snacking too much throughout the day can lead to more cravings and ultimately more calories. It can also be a result of boredom eating which isn’t caused by true hunger.
There are two camps on snacking. One camp says you must eat 5 small meals a day to prevent irregular blood sugar. The other camp says if you snack all day, you never give your body time to stop working on digestion, leaving no time for regular housekeeping. I personally try not to snack since it causes me to crave more food, but see what works best for you. Try to eat three filling meals a day and see if you can make it to the next meal without snacking. Always keep a healthy snack on hand just in case. Raw nuts and fruit are easy to go snacks.
5. Watch Sodium Intake
Sodium is the star seasoning of the Standard American Diet. High sodium diets can attribute to a lot of water weight, and this is definitely not what you want during the holidays. In addition to causing unsightly bloat, a high sodium diet is dangerous to your health since it creates an extra burden on your heart due to the excess fluid in your body. This increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, and kidney disease as well as heightened inflammation, which has been associated with weight gain. When working with clients on weight loss resistance, inflammation is a key factor that is always addressed first. So keep a close eye on your sodium intake to avoid bloating, inflammation and the related weight gain.(1,2)
6. Time Restricted Eating and Eating in Alignment with your Circadian Rhythm
We’ve long known from animal studies that fasting affects the metabolism. In one study, a group of mice were allowed to eat all day long and another group of mice were allowed to eat in an 8-hour eating window. Even though both groups consumed the same amount of calories and types of foods, the mice that grazed all day long got fat and sick while the mice that fasted 16 hours a day did not. They were also protected from fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome just by timing their meals. The same is true for humans.
In a study done on a small group of prediabetic men, researchers found that eating in a six hour eating window earlier in the day (8am-2pm), called early time-restricted feeding (eTRF), improved many health markers including lower insulin. This is an important finding since too much insulin leads to insulin resistance and eventually weight loss resistance or even type two diabetes.
By eating earlier in the day, you are working with your natural circadian rhythm, which regulates glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism. Studies show that eating more at breakfast and less at dinner improves glycemic control, weight loss, lipid levels and reduces hunger. This is how our ancestors would have eaten since they had to live their day by the sunlight, so this is how our body evolved. By honoring your circadian rhythm, you can give yourself a metabolic advantage to help you maintain your weight. (3,4)
Give your body time repair and reset at night instead of focusing on digestion. Your metabolism will thank you.
7. Limit Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol as well as any other liquid calorie, can really pack on the calories. Taking a pass on the alcohol shows up as a savings on the scale. If you don’t feel like you can do this, then try sticking to one glass of red wine or a vodka with club soda and lime. Also have a non-alcoholic club soda with lime in between alcoholic drinks so that you stay hydrated and it still feels like you are drinking. Definitely avoid all sugary drinks since these are almost always high in calories and sugar.
In addition to the liquid calories, chronic drinking will inhibit fat loss in another way by causing an increase in the stress hormone cortisol (due to its effect on the liver). This is also one of the reasons you don’t get a good night’s sleep after a night of heavy drinking.
While organizations like the WHO and the CDC have long recommended only 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men, more recent research reports that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol. A global study of more than 200 countries, found that alcohol is tied to more than 3 million deaths globally per year. Outside of the risk of car accidents, they also found an increased risk of cancer and other health issues. This risk is dose dependent, so the more you drink, the higher the risk. (5)
Sorry, don’t shoot the messenger.
8. Increase Exercise
Our last tip on avoiding holiday weight gain requires a little more effort, but if you are planning to indulge more than normal, up your exercise routine to account for the additional calories. While losing weight is more about what you eat than how much you exercise, adding in more activity in your daily routine can help you maintain your weight.
Walking is a great way to burn a few extra calories. Walking 3.5 miles per hour burns about 149 calories in 30 minutes for a 155 pound person and 178 calories for a 185 pound person. So, while you are out holiday shopping, take a few extra laps around the mall to get your walking in for the day.
Final Thoughts About Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain
While I spoke a lot about calorie counting, quality is definitely just as important as quantity when dealing with weight management. When your body gets the nutrients it needs from high quality food, especially vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, legumes, and intact whole grains, you are more likely to consume fewer calories, obtain a healthy weight, and be healthier overall. A plant-based diet makes is easy to avoid holiday weight gain while gaining all the health benefits as well.
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- Robinson A, Edwards D, Farquhar W. The Influence of Dietary Salt Beyond Blood Pressure. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2019;21(6). doi:10.1007/s11906-019-0948-5
- Ramallal R, Toledo E, Martínez J et al. Inflammatory potential of diet, weight gain, and incidence of overweight/obesity: The SUN cohort. Obesity. 2017;25(6):997-1005. doi:10.1002/oby.21833
- Hatori M, Vollmers C, Zarrinpar A, et al. Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet. Cell Metab. 2012;15(6):848–860. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2012.04.019
- Sutton EF, Beyl R, Early KS, Cefalu WT, Ravussin E, Peterson CM. Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metab. 2018;27(6):1212–1221.e3. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.04.010
- GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators. Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 [published correction appears in Lancet. 2018 Sep 29;392(10153):1116] [published correction appears in Lancet. 2019 Jun 22;393(10190):e44]. Lancet. 2018;392(10152):1015–1035. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2