8 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Debra McKinney Banks

To be honest, the holidays are my favorite time of year because of the food. I come from a Southern family where a holiday meal is not complete unless you have candied yams, collard greens, corn bread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and pecan pie. Each year, the fear of losing the progress I’ve attained over the past 10 months fills my mind like savory brown gravy poured into a hollow of fluffy white mashed potatoes.

I digress.

Obviously, I love food. But I have also come to love eating healthy, sweating during a good workout, and the euphoria I feel when I can button a pair of jeans without sucking in my tummy.

Fortunately, to keep away the dreaded post-holiday bloat, you don’t have to be a Scrooge and avoid family and friends until spring. Here are eight tips that will help you mind your waistline and still enjoy all the wonderfulness of this holiday season.

  1. Keep things in perspective.

It would take 500 extra calories per day—above and beyond your daily intake—for you to gain a pound in a week. So, theoretically, one slice of lemon pound cake won’t make you gain weight by itself. It’s the repeat offenses that add up. Keeping a food journal can be helpful in remembering the splurges you make each day.

2. Make a plan.

Like many things in life, proceeding without a plan is a setup for failure. Instead of skipping meals before a party, Chrissa Farrell, a certified personal trainer and lifestyle wellness coach, will forgo weekly “treat meals” for a week or two before an event where she knows she may be tempted to indulge. “By planning, I can incorporate some of my favorite treat foods without feeling an ounce of guilt,” says Farrell.

3. Out of sight, out of mind.

Avoid hanging around the buffet table or an area with the holiday goodies (e.g., break room or office “treat table”). Cynthia Chea Péan, a certified plant-based chef and nutritional consultant, suggests you peruse the options available, choose a few favorites, and then move on.

4. Follow the 80/20 rule.

Before going to a party or holiday dinner, “fill up on fiber,” says Heather Reseck, a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist specializing in plant-based nutrition. Think high-quality fiber foods, including fresh fruits, veggies, or beans. “Use the 80/20 rule. Aim for 80 percent of your food to be real food—unrefined, high-fiber plant foods.” Also, remember to drink plenty of water. “It’s easy to mistake the cues and think we are hungry, when we are actually thirsty,” says Reseck.

5. Listen to your tummy.

Stop when you feel satisfied, not full. Resist the urge to go for that second plate. Often our brains need a few minutes to signal to our stomachs that we’ve had enough. Eating slowly and taking time to tune in to the nuances of the textures and flavors of your food will also give you a sense of satiety.

6. Keep up with your regular exercise routine.

Besides helping to prevent weight gain, exercise is also a great stress reliever that aids in releasing the tensions associated with the hectic pace of the holidays. “If I’m traveling and can’t access a gym, I walk and do bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, squats, toe raises, and crunches/planks,” says Farrell.

7. Just say no.

Social pressure to eat specially prepared treats by friends and family is pretty strong. Reseck advises preparing yourself mentally to maintain your food choices: “Visualize yourself saying, ‘No, thank you. It does look good, but I’ve discovered that my body does best without that. You go ahead. I will have something else.’”

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

“If you fall off your plan altogether, resist the urge to beat yourself up,” cautions Farrell. “Tomorrow is a new day. You can get back on track and keep moving forward.”

Debra McKinney Banks strives to simultaneously work on her waistline and enjoy good food while living in central Massachusetts.

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