On average, Americans gain about a pound over the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. One pound? That’s not that bad. The problem is most Americans don’t lose that pound, so after 10 years of holiday seasons, you’re 10 pounds (or more) heavier than you wanted to be.
Surprisingly, it’s not the holiday meal of up to 2000+ calories in one whammy. Yes, most people tend to overeat on the holiday, but it’s a holiday. Enjoy it! The struggle is keeping it a holiday, not a holiweek. The weight starts to creep on when when the mashed potatoes and chocolate pie remain on your plate for several days. Or those holiday parties where you nibble on appetizers with a drink in your hand all night.
Believe me, even as a nutritionist, I still fully enjoy the holiday treats like my grandmother’s chocolate and peanut butter buckeyes (and this year my mom made a special dark chocolate & almond butter batch!) However, it’s important to set some limits, so you can maintain your weight during the holiday season. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, maintaining during the holiday season is a great goal; if you do lose weight, then you get a gold star!
Prepare for holiday meals and parties by eating a nutrient-dense diet the rest of the time.
Don’t skip breakfast and lunch to “save calories” at a holiday party. You’ll be on the blood sugar rollercoaster, and you’ll likely overindulge with all food in sight at the party.
When you arrive at holiday events, take a look at all the appetizers, dishes, and desserts available. Make a decision what special dishes you want to try. Choose the dishes you’re most excited for, or the ones that you only have once a year around the holidays. For example, eat the famous sweet potato pie, and skip the dinner roll that you can have anytime.
Listen to your hunger and fullness cues. If you’re hungry, eat something that will satisfy you like foods with some protein or fat (a handful of nuts, shrimp cocktail, fruit and cheese). Think before you reach for more. Oftentimes, we mindlessly eat, even if we’re not fully enjoying the food or even if we’re alreaady full. If you find yourself still eyeing that plate of appetizers, remove yourself from the room to socialize away from the food.
Holiday meals have the potential to be healthy and nutrient-dense because there’s typically quite a few veggies, good protein, and homemade food. It’s the carb-overload (not the tryptophan) that makes you sleepy. Fill your plate with green veggies, protein, and choose small portions of carb-rich dishes.
Leftovers are a big contributor to overeating during the holidays. If you decide to take home leftovers, choose the veggies and protein, and leave the desserts, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. I hate wasting food as much as anyone, but your body doesn’t deserve to be a wastebasket either. It goes to waste either in the trash, or your body. Wasting food isn’t going to save the hungry children, and obesity is now a bigger problem than hunger is. Enjoy it once, and really enjoy it. Eat mindfully, and savor each bite.
Don’t forget to stay active during the holidays too. Take a walk after your meal, or chase the kids hyped up on sugar around the house. It may feel silly, but you can easily fit in a minute of squats, push-ups, or jumping jacks a few times each day over the next week. Challenge your family to fitness challenges during commercials.
Sweat it out like Santa.
In between the Christmas cookies and bubbly champagne, enjoy your time with your family and friends. Don’t worry about food or weight, and if you end up overindulging on eggnog and peppermint bark, start with a balanced breakfast the next day.
You could even help Santa and his reindeers stay focused and healthy on their trip around the world by leaving out a tray of veggies, cheese, and nuts. He’ll get enough cookies elsewhere, and I hear reindeers like carrots as much as I do.
What’s your favorite holiday dish or treat? Mine are chocolate buckeyes made with love.