Although by now you’ve hopefully now finished the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the holiday eating season has just begun. And, as a result, over the next month, the average American will gain one or two pounds. While that might not sound like much, the annual weight gain adds up from year to year and can lead to significant gains as the years goes by.
So, if the seams on your favorite holiday outfit are already bursting ahead of the onslaught of holiday parties, all-you-can-eat buffets, peppermint bark and eggnog, now’s the time to consider strategies to maintain your current weight and still enjoy the season.
At this time of year, most of us are bombarded with food. High calorie treats appear everywhere you look. Tables are filled with home-made cookies, gingerbread, hot apple cider, and irresistible savory appetizers. But resist you must, says Amy Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University. Here’s her advice to keep you lean this holiday season:
Be picky about your splurges. You can eat crackers and cheese any time, but the holidays are a time to sample special seasonal treats that people have spent a lot of energy preparing. So, if you’re at a holiday buffet, browse before you graze to size up your best options. If that delectable chocolate dessert beckons, enjoy a slice but pass on the brownies or soda. Allow yourself to indulge, just choose where you want to spend your calories.
Be mindful. When there’s a bowl of chips right in front of you, you are more likely to keep munching without really thinking about it. So pay attention to what you’re eating. Slow down and savor every bite, taking the time to appreciate what you’re putting into your mouth. Watch your portion size.
Plan ahead. If you know you are going to a party in the evening, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. Don’t starve yourself; in fact, consider eating a snack to take the edge off of your hunger. Bring something healthy to potlucks so at least you can count on one healthy option being offered. Seasonal fruit such as pomegranates, clementines and cranberries are terrific holiday dishes because they are pretty, festive and, best of all, guilt free.
Conversation is calorie-free. Once you’ve taken a plate of food at a holiday gathering, step away from the table. Find a comfy space where you can talk to others. Fill up on fellowship, which is calorie-free!
Water is calorie-free, too. So, drink up. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself as you celebrate and prevent a next day hang-over. Consider creating a wine spritzer by adding flavored sparkling water to your wine. Instead of drinking lemonade or soda with a meal, choose water. Not only does water fill you up, it’s also good for your digestive system, skin, muscles and kidneys.
In addition to watching what you eat and drink, you should offset holiday calories by becoming more active. Saint Louis University associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training, Ethel Frese, DPT, offers the following tips:
Be realistic. Becoming more active is a great way to mitigate a few extra calories, but it is not license to add massively to your diet. So, suppose you splurged and ate a 350 calorie pastry, on top of your normal daily calories. If you want to burn off all of the excess, you’ll need nearly an hour of intense exercise. While it’s not necessary to count every calorie, it is good to have a rough idea of how your calorie intake corresponds to your exercise, and know that it can take more exercise than you might think to balance out your food intake.
Everything counts. That said, don’t be discouraged. Exercise offers many overall health benefits, and burning off even an extra hundred calories a day makes a significant difference. In some cases, extra activity may be a natural part of your routine this season. Walking from the back of a packed parking lot at the mall and scouring stores for the perfect gift provides good exercise. House cleaning for company can burn calories, as can shoveling snow, playing with children and putting up decorations.
Fight the urge to hibernate. If rainy or snowy days tempt you to stay at home watching movies and reading books, be sure you don’t make a habit of avoiding outings. Bundle up and get out for fresh air and exercise. Run errands, stop by to see friends and neighbors, drop off canned goods at a food pantry, check out an exhibit at a museum or build a snowman!
Be consistent. The secret to success is to add a little bit of exercise each day. The effort really does add up, and you’ll find that daily activity makes you feel healthier, more alert, and happier in general. You’ll enjoy the season more without the sluggish feeling brought on by too many sedentary hours. Even if you don’t burn off all of the extra calories through exercise, you’ll limit the damage and in January, you’ll appreciate having only one pound to lose, instead of five.
Remember that the secret to controlling your weight is balancing the calories you take in (food) with the calories you burn. “Even the healthiest eaters need to exercise and the best exercisers need nutrition,” says Moore. “Nutrition and exercise provides the one-two punch of holiday weight management.”