If you’re thinking about starting a diet, now is not a good time. While it would be great to fit into that little black dress on New Year’s Eve, there are just too many tempting treats and feasts this time of year to make weight loss a realistic goal.
Experts have reduced their estimate of the average weight gain during the holidays from around seven pounds to about one pound. But that extra pound every year still adds up and does not come off, according to a study by The New England Journal of Medicine. Since the average adult gains one to two pounds a year, our holiday indulgences are undoubtably contributing to our expanding waistlines.
You can reverse the trend by simply maintaining your weight through the holiday season. But how do you turn down that eggnog, pumpkin pie or extra helping of stuffing? It’s all just too good — and everyone else is indulging. And then there’s the office party, and your neighbor’s holiday party and your family’s annual gathering …
We asked a few top health experts to share their best tips and strategies for enjoying holiday fare without gaining a pound.
1. Make a plan
Certified Wellness Coach Norah Lynch, M.S., R.D., suggests making a plan for your exercise and eating strategies during the holidays, complete with a reminder system.
“We tend to disappear for six weeks and then wake up January second and think, what did I do?” she says. Reminders can include post-it notes in strategic places, regular reminders on your computer, or maybe a photo of yourself in a swimsuit tacked to your fridge.
2. Have a little
This time of year you will be bombarded with cookies, cakes pies, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes and a variety of other rich foods. “Everybody can eat something of everything, it’s just a matter of how much,” says Sari Greaves, R.D., C.D.N. and an American Dietician Association spokeswoman. She says portion control is the key to not depriving yourself of your favorite treat.
At meal time, Greaves suggests filling half your plate with veggies, one quarter with a serving of protein such as skinless poultry, fish or lean beef or steak, and saving the remaining quarter for small tastes of the rich, sauce-laden dishes.
3. Pick your battles
Carla Carter from Ferrum, Va., lost more than 100 lbs. with the help of Weight Watchers and The FIRM workout DVDs — and has kept it off for three years. She doesn’t get anxious around the holidays, and she doesn't deprive herself.
“I’ll forgo the rolls, the mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese because I can have that anytime of the year,” Carter says. “I’ll save my calories for something that is specific to this time of year like pumpkin pie or — my favorite — sweet potato casserole.”
Lynch advises decides ahead of time what you’re going to indulge in: an extra drink, savory rich foods or sweet treats. “Let yourself enjoy one, but not all three,” she says. And remember to eat slowly and savor the food.
4. Keep moving, even 10 minutes a day
One of the major causes of weight gain during the holidays is lack of activity, says Greaves. Don’t use the busyness of the season or the colder weather as an excuse. Lynch suggests doing at least three rounds of 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity a day. But, she says, even just 10 or 20 minutes is better than doing nothing. Walk around the block, climb stairs, shovel snow, ice-skate or work out with an exercise video.
“Don’t think of exercise as something you have to do, think of it as a way to relieve stress or help you sleep at night,” Lynch recommends.
Carter says she’s adamant about sticking to her workout routine during the holidays, and even tries to fit in an extra workout to make up for the additional calories she consumes. Her family’s tradition of playing hopscotch after big holiday meals every year is a great example of adding activity into your day without “working out.”
5. Take control of your environment
You might not be able to decide the type or amount of food served at any event, but there are a few things you can control. For example, if you bring a healthier dish such as a fruit salad or veggie tray, you know there will be at least one guilt-free dish available. Here are a few other things you can do stop the parade of food into your mouth:
• Never engage in conversation while standing next to the buffet table.
• Wear snug clothing. Feeling that pull at your waist will serve as a reminder that you should slow down or take a walk.
• Chew on sugarless gum to prevent you from going back to the buffet line for second helpings.
6. Prepare in advance
Don’t go to a party hungry. “This is a major party pitfall because it sets you up for overindulging,” says Greaves. “Snack on nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods such as whole grains, fresh fruit or low-fat yogurt to take the edge off your hunger before the party.”
Lynch also suggests that you don’t go to an event thirsty or tired. “Our bodies don’t always distinguish between thirst and hunger,” she says. “And, we make really bad decisions when we’re tired.” Skip that extra hour of TV, she says, to make sure you’re well rested.
7. Don’t graze
Just so you know, broken cookies DO have calories. Same for anything consumed while standing. And lots of little plates add up to a lot of calories. It’s better to put together a meal and sit down to enjoy it. Noshing is the same as mindless eating.
Try a smaller plate, says Greaves, to control your portions when you do sit down to eat.
8. Stick to your drink limit
Not only does alcohol add extra calories, but it can also stimulate your appetite and reduce your willpower.
“We are all adults,” Lynch says. “You know how many drinks you can have before you lose the ability to make the right choice.” Is it one, two, three? Whatever your limit, stick to it. Enjoy a drink or two, but don’t let getting drunk ruin your commitment to everything mentioned above.
9. Get back on that horse
Let’s say you ignored most or all of the above advice. You ate with abandon and the only exercise you got was walking to the buffet table to refill your plate. Now what do you do? “Stop the bleeding,” Lynch says. “Don’t let it stretch into days or weeks. Decide that the holidays are over and it’s time to get back on track.”
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