The holidays are a joyous season accompanied by fun, family, friends – and lots of good food that can add up to holiday weight gain.
As we catch up with our loved ones or enjoy seasonal sporting events, these social occasions often center around food. For many of us, delicious offerings – pies, cakes, cookies, and candies – can overwhelm us despite our best efforts to eat healthily.
Here’s the skinny on keeping off the pounds
UAB Employee Wellness Director Anna Threadcraft recommends that people try to be realistic about what they choose to eat and drink. It’s difficult to completely stay away from the chocolate fudge, divinity, and other treats.
“It’s important to come into this season not trying to diet,” said Threadcraft, who has more than 10 years of experience in health promotion. “There are three practices you can put in place to avoid gaining an extra 5 to 10 pounds through the holidays.”
1. Survey the table.
Before you fill your plate, survey all the options on the table. Most events include foods that are higher in fat and sugar, so take time to judge what you really need to eat. While it’s easy to get excited; pause for a moment before you automatically take a serving of everything.
“Take a look at the offerings, drinkwise and foodwise,” Threadcraft advised. “Decide what you want. Before you fill your plate with one helping of everything, really look at what’s available and decide what you want the most.”
She recommends making wise choices, mixing heavy-calorie foods with healthier options to help balance out the meal.
“Pick baked or grilled foods instead of the fried option,” said Threadcraft, who has served as a college nutrition professor. “Fill a quarter to half of your plate with the lower calorie, lower fat items such as vegetables or fruit, making it easier to choose smaller servings of the high calorie and higher fat items.”
2. Don’t arrive hungrily.
This tip makes sense, whether you’ll be “grazing” among a bevy of delicious appetizers or sitting down to a four-course meal.
Before leaving the house, she recommends eating a cup of yogurt, a small piece of fruit or a handful of baby carrots. The point is not to have your stomach roaring in hunger, which may lead to overeating and, in turn, weight gain.
“Never go to an event on an empty stomach,” Threadcraft said. “Have something quick and easy to fill your stomach before you go. Even drinking a glass of water will fill you up a bit.”
3. Limit … don’t eliminate.
At this time of year, it doesn’t pay to try to eliminate all the “forbidden” or yummy foods, Threadcraft said.
That restrictive attitude will carry consequences later. Threadcraft said that being mindful about what you eat is the key to success: You can avoid spending five months getting rid of the extra pounds that piled on from Thanksgiving to Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s Day.
“Don’t tell yourself that you can’t have that piece of pumpkin pie,” Threadcraft said. “Instead, enjoy the foods that are special or unique to the holiday season, but be intentional about choosing the right portion size. Take time to truly taste your food. Food is a gift. It’s meant to be enjoyed, and we get to share it with family and friends. But be mindful and intentional — avoid eating simply because the food is there.
“It’s when you refuse to let yourself eat that piece of pie that you’re more likely to go crazy later. At 10 p.m., when you peek inside the refrigerator, that’s when you’ll decide to have the pie you refused at lunch,” she said with a laugh. “But instead, you’ll eat three pieces to make up for not having a slice.”
It’s all about mindfulness
Threadcraft said that keeping your weight on the keel and feeling good during the holidays is “all about mindfulness.”
“The Christmas season can be stressful,” she said. “You’re visiting with relatives, and that can often be difficult.” Preparing for holiday visits, cleaning, cooking and shopping all add to one’s emotional load.
Threadcraft said that healthy eating during this busy time makes a huge, positive difference.
“Practicing healthy habits such as routine sleep and exercising regularly, in addition to making wise food choices, is one more way to support successful management of stress,” she said.
If you do have a couple of days of overeating, Threadcraft said, “Increase your physical activity slightly or be even more mindful about the portion size and types of food you consume. Occasionally, we have a few unhealthy meals in a row, but it’s the decisions we make on a consistent basis that have the greatest impact on our overall well-being. It’s when you consistently don’t make wise choices that you end up gaining weight.”