After a weekend of indulging in Thanksgiving dinner leftovers like pie, butter-soaked rolls, and stuffing, I decided I needed to step away from the food and refocus on healthy habits.
Even though the average American only gains between one and two pounds between Halloween and New Year’s, those pounds are hard to lose. In fact, roughly 75% of annual weight gain takes place during the holiday season.
Plus, if you put on just two pounds a year over the course of 10 years, you’ll gain 20 hard-to-lose pounds! This is what experts refer to as “creeping obesity” and unless you can avoid holiday weight gain, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid the creep.
Balance Holiday Decadence and Healthy Habits
Over the course of the holiday season, you’ll be faced with decadent desserts, rich beverages, and holiday festivities that disrupt your normal eating routine. Most people don’t want to give up any holiday foods or activities. Indulging is okay…to a point.
Go ahead and celebrate, but make a commitment to celebrate with moderation and balance in mind. Don’t view this commitment as a form of self-denial; rather, view it as a way to enjoy the indulgences of the season without harming your health. If you can keep the pounds off now, you may not have to deal with managing your weight loss later!
Monitor Eating in Moderation
Some people monitor moderation by counting calories or using Weight Watchers points, but if you have a hard time keeping track, try these ways to stay on top of your holiday health:
1. Keep a Fitness and Nutrition Journal
Rather than writing down specific calorie intake and calorie burn, just keep an accurate account of what you eat and do. Being conscious of your own activities can really help you make healthy decisions. After all, it’s much easier to avoid hitting the gym if you conveniently forget how much eggnog you indulged in last night. But if you write it down, it’s much harder to deny the evidence.
And remember – no cheating! If you indulged in a coworker’s cookies, or had some appetizers at a party, write them down in your journal.
2. Teeter-Totter “Diet” and “Exercise”
You know your pre-holiday habits. If you exercise three times a week and eat a relatively healthy diet, consider that your baseline heading into the holiday season. Then, enjoy the special holiday events you attend, but counterbalance the extra caloric intake with an extra workout for the week. If you’re short on time, there are ways to sneak in a workout routine into your day.
For example, if you attend two holiday dinner parties one week, add the equivalent of two extra workouts to your weekly routine. The calories may not exactly even out, but you’ll be in a much better position at the end of the holidays than if you weren’t balancing your increased food intake with more exercise.
3. Keep a Holiday Calendar
Just because the holidays are a time to celebrate doesn’t mean every day needs to be a celebration. Set aside one or two nights a week to really enjoy yourself, but stick to your usual routine the rest of the time.
If you usually live it up on Saturday nights, give yourself an extra night to really let loose, but stay in the rest of the week. That means saying no to friends and skipping out on impromptu get-togethers or last-minute events if you’ve already hit your weekly quota.
4. Eat Conscientiously
Studies have shown that people who sit in a well-lit location, take smaller bites, and chew their food thoroughly are less likely to overeat. You may not have the luxury of sitting down in a well-lit location during holiday festivities, but you can control how fast and how thoroughly you chew your food.
Aim to chew each bite at least 10 times before swallowing. When you slow down to eat, you allow your body to take in the tastes, scents, and textures of the food, which makes the experience more satisfying.
This also gives you time to reflect on what you eat, including the calories, fat, and carbohydrates in the food. If you don’t allow yourself the time to truly enjoy what you eat, you’re more likely to overindulge.
5. Recruit an Accountability Buddy
Sometimes you need someone looking over your shoulder to stay on track. Link up with a friend or family member who you can check in with daily to discuss your healthy choices.
Choose this person wisely! Find someone who has similar health and fitness goals and who is equally committed to staying healthy during the holidays. Look at this person as a cheerleader and a teammate, not a jailer or a judge. You should encourage and support one another, instead of pointing out faults or mistakes.
You could even put money on the line and use a site like stickK to keep you accountable to your goals.
Committing to stay healthy throughout the holiday season is the first step, but to make your commitment a reality, you need to follow through and even up the ante in some cases.
Pick and choose from these options to make this holiday season your healthiest yet:
6. Sign Up for a Holiday Fitness Competition
Most gyms offer fitness competitions for members to help encourage healthy habits during the holiday season. Rather than New Year’s-style weight-loss competitions, holiday competitions generally focus on accumulating total activity.
So if you plan to work out on a regular basis and need a little extra motivation to follow through, sign up to participate in your gym’s competition.
7. Sign Up for a Holiday Fitness Event
Check local event listings to find running, walking, or cycling races in your area. If you sign up for an event, chances are you’ll follow through on the necessary training. If you have children, look for events with a family friendly focus and get the entire gang involved.
8. Start and End Each Day Strong
Give yourself enough time each morning to cycle through a quick 10-minute resistance-training circuit and then spend 10 minutes at night performing some type of cardio. While 20 minutes of exercise a day doesn’t meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s physical activity guidelines, it sets you on the right track and gets you moving.
Even if you miss your workout because something came up, you won’t completely ditch your exercise routine if you can do at-home exercises every morning
9. Celebrate With Activity
Create new holiday traditions with your family by choosing to engage in active celebrations. For instance, instead of driving around your neighborhood to look at all the Christmas lights, take a family walk. Check recreation centers, rock climbing gyms, and bowling alleys to see if they have special Christmas programs. Every little bit counts, so think creatively and come up with new ways to make the season magical.
10. Turn Back the Clock
Everyone has heard the suggestions about taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking farther away at the mall, but what about turning back time this season? One day each week, pretend that you don’t have the luxury of modern-day conveniences.
Make meals from scratch instead of in the microwave, ride your bike to work instead of driving your car, and wash the dishes by hand instead of running them through the dishwasher. Your whole world will seem to slow down, but isn’t that what the Christmas season is about? Plus, with no TV, cell phone, or Internet, you’ll have more time to really engage with family and friends.
Exercise may help keep you healthy and trim, but weight management really comes down to what you put in your mouth. Prevent holiday weight gain by following these holiday nutrition tips:
11. Host Your Own Party
The great thing about hosting your own holiday party is that you can control what foods and beverages you serve. Instead of white rolls and fruity, calorie-laden cocktails, you can stick to whole wheat rolls and wine. Apply this same healthy focus to all of your party appetizer recipes and you can feel good about letting yourself indulge.
12. Bring Your Own Dishes
It’s considered common courtesy to bring a side dish or two to a party. However, instead of bringing Christmas cookies or pie, bring a healthy salad or chocolate-covered strawberries. Fill your plate with the main course and your own side dishes and you’ll know you’re eating healthy.
13. Start With Soup or Salad
Studies have shown that you eat less during a single sitting if you start the meal off with a water-based soup or a green salad. If you don’t think your hosts will serve soup or salad at their holiday event, eat some before heading out the door.
Use caution when adding toppings. A tortilla soup loaded with tortilla strips and sour cream, or a salad drenched in creamy dressing won’t help you lose weight.
14. Trade Holiday Events for Eating Out
Americans eat out an average of four times a week, but they get roughly 1/3 of their weekly calories from these meals. If you dine out regularly and also hit the Christmas party circuit, you can easily overindulge.
This holiday season, trade one special meal for another by substituting your holiday parties for your restaurant routine. If your work buddies have a holiday soiree, skip the fast food and bring a brown bag lunch that day. This doesn’t mean you can go nuts when you hit the party, it just means that you have one more opportunity to balance your calorie intake during the holiday season.
15. Only Eat What You Really Like
I’m a sucker for chocolate chip cookies and anything that combines mint and chocolate, but I couldn’t care less about pies, cakes, or other holiday candy. When I hit a party, I have no problem letting myself enjoy the treats I really love, but I always pass on those I don’t. What’s the point in wasting calories on something you don’t feel strongly about?
Studies have shown that people often overeat when they have more options available than when the options are limited. Don’t rely on others to limit your options. Do it yourself by only eating the foods you really like.
Other Healthy Holiday Habits
Diet and exercise are the two main factors to consider when it comes to avoiding holiday weight gain. However, stress and lack of sleep can also contribute to overeating, lethargy, and weight gain. Be sure to take steps to reduce your stress level and to make sure you get enough sleep.
Some healthy habits to take up this holiday season include:
16. Maintain Your Sleep Schedule
Just because you have more opportunities to stay up late and party doesn’t mean you should. Go out and have fun, but call it quits early enough so that you can get plenty of sleep. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
17. Watch What You Drink
Yes, you should watch your liquid calorie intake, but what you drink can also affect the quality of your sleep. Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine can interrupt your sleep and leave you feeling worn out the next day. Remember, moderation is key!
18. Give Up On “Perfect”
Holiday stress management is important. Striving to make Christmas “perfect” for yourself or your family is a nice goal to have, but it creates a lot of pressure. Who needs that kind of stress? Go ahead and aim for “great,” but realize that sometimes “good enough” ends up being a healthier option for you and everyone around you.
19. Look for Free and Cheap Holiday Options
The holidays are rife with opportunities to spend money, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend money to have a nice holiday. There are many ways to save money during the holidays.
Focus on free Christmas games and activities for the family. Make your own homemade Christmas decorations, attend events at your church, and set a reasonable budget for gifts. Then, share your plan with those around you. If everyone knows exactly what to expect, you don’t have to stress about how much you can, or can’t, spend!
20. Dress Your Best
It’s really tempting to throw on baggy sweaters and loose pants this time of year, but wearing form-fitting clothes can actually make you pay more attention to what you eat and whether your body changes from week to week.
If the pants you put on last week feel a little tight this week, don’t throw them in the back of your closet! Wear them anyway, and just pay more attention to your other healthy habits.
Most weight loss programs only lead to temporary success, so prevent the weight gain before it ever occurs. There are better New Year’s resolution ideas than to lose weight that you just packed on.
Look at it this way: the holiday season is only six weeks long. Maintain a healthy schedule during those six weeks each year, and you could maintain your weight for life! If that isn’t motivation for making healthy choices, I don’t know what is.
What are your favorite tips for avoiding holiday weight gain?