The holidays are a time of joy and celebration but realistically, they’re also a time when our healthy habits are disrupted and we tend to eat and drink more than normal, and perhaps, exercise a bit less. Whether we’re cozying up to some extra comfort foods, enjoying more baked goods, or just having a few extra glasses of wine or champagne while hitting the party circuit, most of use wind up a couple pounds heavier come January. It might not seem like a big deal because, hey, what’s a couple of pounds, but it’s thought that because we hardly notice this amount, we don’t deal with it, and therefore, it contributes to weight gain over time. That’s 20 pounds per decade, to be precise! And what’s worse: Those who are already entering the season with weight to lose tend to gain even more (about five pounds per year). But information is power so now that you’re aware of the situation, let’s talk about strategies to prevent holiday weight gain. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind throughout the holiday season.
Stick with your healthy habits. OK, this seems like a no-brainer, but in my experience, people get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking so when they don’t have an hour to hit the gym or time to prepare a healthy meal, they throw in the towel (or at list hit the pause button on healthy habits over the holidays). Sure, you might not have time to go to the gym, but to prevent holiday weight gain, it helps to think more flexibly. Maybe you have 15 minutes to walk through your neighborhood or do a mat workout at home. And you might not have as much time to cook throughout the week but maybe you could make a big pot of chili on Sunday—in other words, enough to last a few meals so you have something healthy to fall back on. One habit most people can still keep up with is a healthy breakfast and lunch. In order to avoid holiday weight gain, keep up with the healthy habits to whatever degree is possible.
Be strategic with splurges. I’ve noticed that most of us have holiday foods that fall on the “must have” list and some that fall on the “nice to have list.” If you’re attending multiple events throughout the season, prioritize your “must haves.” There’s no right or wrong here—it's highly individual. I MUST HAVE some mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving but while I love most desserts, I'm just not into pie, so it falls on my "nice to have" list. That means I might splurge more on the potatoes and just have a few bites of the pie. The healthy habit here is to recognize that you don’t love all the food equally, so if you create a hierarchy around those you prize, you’ll be able to prioritize those splurges above others that are less important to you. I recommend this approach throughout the year, but especially during the holidays when splurges are more available and preventing weight gain is especially important.
Don’t fast before an event. I understand the desire to save up for the big affair, but it’s hard to be strategic and prioritize favorite foods when you can barely think straight and are ready to shovel anything into your mouth. Instead of fasting, have a meaningful and satisfying brunch. Since holiday dinners are often earlier than our typical meals, you might be able to get by with just one satisfying meal or one meal and a light snack before the main event. Everyone’s schedule is different so think about your schedule and how to create a healthy plan that keeps you content and only lightly hungry as you head into your holiday meal.
The structure for a healthy non-holiday meal is generally at least 20 grams of protein, fiber from veggies and/or fruits, and a tablespoon or two of friendly fats. Optional: A quality starchy carb (such as quinoa, sweet potato, or beans) in a portion that’s right for you. Here are a few examples of what this format could look like:
Protein pancakes (made with a banana and eggs) topped with tahini and some raspberries.Salad with a bed of greens, a scoop of brown rice or quinoa, a couple of boiled eggs, and a drizzle of dressing.
Following this format is a healthy habit that will curtail hunger and help you avoid holiday (or any) weight gain.
Rethink drinks. Festive cocktails taste good going down but they aren’t doing your body any favors. The extra sugar can contribute to weight gain, worsen the next day effect (hello, horrible hangover), and alcohol alone can lead to poor sleep, which can then prompt cravings for unhealthy, sugary- and carb-rich fare. It’s a vicious cycle! I hate to be a grinch and I know it’s hard but one of the best things you can do for your body is to routinely cap drinking at one drink/day for women, two for men. Of course there are times when this won’t be possible but making this the norm rather than the exception is a healthy habit to practice over the course of the holidays.
Practice gratitude. The holidays can be festive, but they can also bring up some difficult feelings. If you’ve lost someone in your life or have a challenging family, holidays can be stressful or even sad. The practice of gratitude may seem overly simplistic, but studies show that it can impact our brain pathways, which can alter our emotional state and lead to a more positive sense of wellbeing. If you don’t want to journal, take a few minutes each day to think about the people you appreciate and the things that are going well that day. It doesn’t have to be something monumental to be effective. If you didn’t win the lottery but scored the perfect parking spot, give a nod of thanks to the parking Gods. If you’re writing holiday cards, consider sending a personal message to let someone special know how much he or she means to you. Not only can this lead to better vibes now, but there’s also evidence that this shift in mindset can help you cope better and be more resilient when something stressful comes up in the future.
Sleep. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sleep is one of the healthiest habits to prevent weight gain--whether during the holidays or not. Sufficient sleep is deeply connected to your health, weight, and well being. Since late night parties coupled with excessive alcohol can really disrupt sleep patterns, it's a good idea to stick with healthy sleep habits as often as possible throughout the holidays. To read about natural ways to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and experience more restorative sleep, check out my recent blog.
Have a happy, healthy holiday, my friends!