The holidays can be one of the toughest times of the year for maintaining your weight. With gifts of chocolate from friends, pot lucks at work and indulgent home-cooked meals, skipping holiday weight gain is no easy task.
A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicates Americans gain about a pound over the holidays.
It might not sound as substantial as rumors of gaining five to 10 pounds over the holidays, but it's still significant. Researchers found that the addition of an extra pound each year could contribute to obesity in later life, since the vast majority of Americans don't lose that extra pound after the holidays.
This is especially important since studies also have suggested that heavier individuals tend to gain more weight over the holidays as compared to those of an average weight.
"We have too much time on our hands. We need to think about spending time with our families in an active way, not just at the table," said Rena Mendelson, a professor in the School of Nutrition at Ryerson University in Canada.
Mendelson doesn't advocate depriving yourself over the holidays. Instead she suggests making better choices, and taking into consideration the calories in the foods that you're consuming.
"It's about enjoying food in moderation so we don't feel so guilty about what we're eating," she said. "It's more important to enjoy (the foods we eat) and manage total consumption."
How to Avoid Gaining Weight
Start off with a small plate.
While you might be tempted to pull out your large holiday buffet plates, that's not the best option if you're trying to avoid overeating. Research shows that people tend to eat less food when they're presented with a smaller plate.
"A bigger serving platter encourages people to eat more," notes Mendelson, who said this also applies to platters used to put out food at the buffet table. "Put everything on smaller plates and people will eat less."
Don't drink your calories.
You may be inclined to have a few mixed drinks, or perhaps some eggnog. Go easy easy on drinks so you'll have more room to indulge in the meal.
Alcoholic beverages, especially ones that are particularly fruity or creamy, tend to be high in empty calories that people might not even think about while they're drinking them. This particularly applies to eggnog. In addition to its alcohol content, the beverage generally includes egg and cream, making it a higher calorie drink than most other choices. Consider opting for a low calorie eggnog. That way you can save the calories for the meal.
Serve healthy options.
You might be looking forward to ham or turkey with all the trimmings, but if you glance over at the snack table and notice the only options are vegetables and dip, chances are you're going to have some. If you're not hosting, perhaps you can bring a healthy side dish or appetizer.
"People eat what they're presented with. If you want people to eat healthy, don't put out the competition," Mendelson said in reference to cookies and other high calories snacks. "We are very much dependent on our environment and what people present to us."
Host a holiday party at your house.
By hosting a holiday gathering at your house, you can choose to offer healthy foods, and it gives you a chance to control the fat and calorie count.
Fresh fruit, air-popped popcorn and pretzels make great snacks. You can also locate lower calorie and low fat meal options for leaner baked meats, fresh vegetables without added calorie-laden sauces, and deserts without as much fat such as angel food cake, sugar cookies or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Pot lucks are another option if you can't host, that way you can bring a healthy option you'll enjoy eating.
Plan ahead for holiday meals.
If you know in advance that you will be heading out for a holiday meal or get-together, eat lower calorie healthy choices the rest of the day so you won't feel guilty about splurging.
If possible, try to exercise ahead of the holiday meal, even if you only have time for a quick walk around your neighborhood or 20 minutes of cardio. Make sure you don't starve yourself to make up for the impending holiday meal because that just makes you more likely to overeat.
Manage holiday stress so you're not as inclined to overeat.
Stress around the holidays can contribute to overindulging. Avoid stress eating by remembering you don't have to be at every holiday event. Don't be afraid to say no if you are too busy, and be realistic about how much free time you have.
Use lists to manageable holiday tasks, checking off items as you complete them. When you begin feeling stressed, try an activity that reduces stress for you. That could include taking a walk, reading a book, meditating, yoga or even treating yourself to a pedicure or massage.
You don't have to eat that chocolate you received as a gift.
Gift givers often give decadent treats such as chocolate or other sweets as holiday gifts. As tempting as it may be, that doesn't mean you have to eat it.
"A big pitfall is when people give each other chocolate as gifts," said Mendelson. "We feel like we have to eat it because it's there. It's an environment that's conducive to weight gain."
Instead, consider having a piece and sharing with your co-workers. You could also take the candy to share at a gathering, which not only puts you in the holiday spirit but saves you from the guilt you're likely to feel if you eat the whole box by yourself.
Add extra workouts to your schedule over the holidays.
If you're going to be eating more or foods that are not as healthy, making time to hit the gym a couple of extra times or taking walks or jogs in the evening can help offset some of the extra calories, especially during weeks when you plan to attend several holiday parties.
Another option is to incorporate physical activity into the time you spend with your family. After a holiday meal, bond with the family with a friendly game of softball, or play tag with the kids. Suggest an afternoon of ice skating or sledding instead of an evening at the movies.
"We have more time on our hands so we need to think of ways to spend time with our family in an active way, not just at the table," Mendelson said.