The holidays are anticipated year round, but can often be a challenging time to stick with diet and exercise goals. It’s not just that holiday foods are often higher in calories, sodium, added sugars and added fats. It can also be hard to get enough sleep and exercise due to all of the holiday preparations. Office candy, baked goods, favorite family treats, holiday parties and those special winter drinks like eggnog and hot chocolate, all beckon us to indulge. All that being said, Americans on average only gain about 1-2 lbs during each holiday season. One to two pounds isn’t much to worry about. However, over the years, those 1-2 pounds can add up! Is holiday weight gain inevitable? Absolutely not! Keep reading for tips on how to manage stress and stick with your health goals this holiday season.
Practice Portion Control
Get rid of the feast or famine mentality, and allow yourself to have your favorite foods, but in smaller portions. Rich holiday foods can still be enjoyed, but just watch your portions and listen to your stomach. Completely denying yourself your favorite holiday foods is only going to make you feel miserable, and could end up in compensatory over-eating later on.Try smaller portions and savor each bite. Bigger doesn’t mean “tastes better.” Usually the first three bites of any food are the most enjoyable. Try sticking to 3-4 bites of your favorite holiday treats, and then filling up on healthier options, like lean proteins and veggies. Be sure to drink water between meals to stay hydrated.
Limit Holiday Sweets
The holidays abound with sugar laden desserts, baked goods and drinks, not to mention all those holiday shaped chocolates. These foods are one of the main culprits leading to holiday weight gain. All that sugar can lead to spikes in blood sugar, followed by low energy and feelings of hunger later on. Not to mention, most holiday sweets pair lots of added fats with all that sugar, leading to a double dose of added calories.
While it is easier than ever during the holidays to munch on sweets all day long, set reasonable limits. For instance, if you have a sugary snack in the afternoon, skip dessert after dinner. A good goal is to follow the American Heart Association’s limits on added sugars. They recommend no more than 6 teaspoons or 24 grams a day of added sugars for women and less 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of added sugars per day for men. As an alternative to sweets, satisfy your sweet tooth with antioxidant rich fruits like berries, melon or citrus fruits. Try a small piece of hiqh quality flavorful dark chocolate. The bittersweet taste may help suppress appetite and reduce cravings for other sweets.
Another way to reduce your intake of added sugars over the holidays is to stay away from all those sugary drinks. One serving of eggnog, mulled wine, cider or hot chocolate often contains as much sugar as multiple servings of sweets. Stick with lower calorie options like herbal tea, seltzer mixed with light juice and of course water. If you love to bake, try cutting sugar in half in recipes for muffins and quick breads. Cut bars and brownies into smaller pieces. Keep cookies and other goodies in the freezer and just take one out at a time. Better yet, bake some and give them away to neighbors, friends or relatives.
Fill Up On Protein and Healthy Fats
In contrast to foods high in added sugars and refined carbs, lean proteins and healthy fats will help you stay full and provide a steady source of energy during the day. Aim for at least 3-4oz of lean protein foods at meals, such as grilled chicken, baked fish, tofu or lean beef. Go for leaner breakfast meats like Canadian bacon or turkey sausage instead of bacon and sausage. Swap out breakfast pastries for eggs or Greek yogurt. Snack on nuts, a small piece of cheese, avocado or hummus with veggies instead of sweets or chips. In a pinch, a homemade or store bought protein shake can also help you get your protein needs met for the day. Try to find protein shakes with at least 20-30 grams of protein per serving and under 10 grams of added sugars.
Avoid the “last meal” mentality
The last meal mentality goes something like this, “I’ll never eat these foods again after I start my diet, so I better fill up on them while I can.” Since the holidays are short lived and typically involve making family favorites that you don’t get to eat very often, it’s easy to tell yourself to over indulge because you won’t eat those foods again for a long time. However, listening to your body and letting feelings of fullness stop you from overeating no matter what day of the year it is, is a key to sustainable weight loss.
As you go through the holidays, keep in mind that you don’t have to eat perfectly every day. Focus on eating healthier foods like lean proteins, veggies, fruits and healthy fats most of the time, just like you would during the rest of the year. If you eat or drink a little more than you normally would, don’t feel bad. Just focus on making healthy choices throughout the next day. Be sure to take time out of the hustle and bustle to relax and enjoy the special moments with family and friends. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about!