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8 ways to avoid holiday weight gain

by | Nov 30, 2015 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

It’s that festive time of year when every weekend consists of holiday celebrations complete with finger foods, cocktails, and sugary treats. Unfortunately, maintaining weight loss success during this cheery season seems about as likely as an elderly man shimmying down a chimney. The good news is that average weight gain during the holiday season is only 1 lb. The bad news is that most people will never lose that pound, leading to an accumulation over time.

The news is worse for people who are already overweight; their average weight gain is closer to 5 lbs. But the news isn’t all grim. While it will take some willpower, staving off holiday weight gain is possible. With the right attitude and a few tricks up your sleeve (which we’ve compiled below) you’ll be excited about holiday celebrations instead of dreading them.

1. Don’t arrive hungry
One common mistake many dieters make is to “save” their calories for night time by eating as little as possible during the day. While this may seem like a good idea, it may lead to overeating. Instead, eat something healthy (lean protein with veggies is a good option) before you arrive at the party. That way, you can nibble at the things you want most instead of making a meal out of unhealthy party foods.

2. Give into (some) cravings
It is important to practice self-control during the holidays (if not, we’d all be miles deep in sugar cookies). But it’s also important to remember that nothing is off limits — as long as you’re careful about portions. “Portion control is the key,” Susan Finn, PhD, RD tells WebMD. “I don’t believe you can’t eat food that you like — even indulgences — but it is the amount you eat.” Be particularly careful with red foods — foods that have the highest calorie density. Fill up with green foods, like fruits and veggies, and save the smallest portion of your plate for red foods like red meats and desserts.

3. Pick your favorite
Holiday celebrations normally feature many finger foods, buffet tables, and ample desserts. While piling your plate high and having “a bite” of each may seem like a good idea, many people find themselves unable to stop at just one bite and end up consuming a large amount of food. Instead of taking tiny bites of many different treats, try indulging in one dessert or main meal you truly want. Eat slowly to savor the food and enjoy it, so you don’t go back for seconds.

4. Bring your own
If you’re attending a potluck party, bring your own healthy dish. Not only will you come off as a thoughtful guest, but you’ll have something to munch on if other dishes don’t fit your dietary needs. To not overshadow your host, try a healthy side dish or dessert — that way, when everyone else is noshing on pecan pie, you can avoid the sugar and stick to your healthy version.

5. Serve dinner restaurant style
If you’re hosting a dinner party, serve dinner restaurant style and keep the large platters of food in the kitchen. That way, after clearing your plate (or not) you can really think about having seconds. Give yourself about 20 minutes to digest and drink a glass of water. If you’re still hungry, go for seconds of healthy sides like veggies.

6. Be prepared to say no
We’re all familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of a relative pushing you to eat a little bit more. Normally, to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings, we’ll oblige. This year, come up with a response ahead of time to keep from giving in. A polite “I’m full” or even a little white lie — “I already had some of your yams. They were delicious!” — should keep pushy relatives at bay.

7. Go for a walk
If you don’t have time to fit in your normal exercise routine, try to fit in a walk. Walking is a low impact activity that you can squeeze in whenever time allows. Aside from burning calories (one hour of walking can torch between 300 and 500 calories), walking has a plethora of other benefits from a happier mental state to more energy.

8. Beware of booze
Finally, while champagne might be free flowing at many holiday gatherings, beware of over imbibing. Aside from the calories (one standard drink has around 100-150 calories), alcohol lowers your inhibitions (as anyone who’s had a colleague overshare at a holiday party can attest). This means you’re more likely to have a “what the heck” attitude when it comes to eating unhealthy foods. Have a glass of your favorite holiday drink, then switch to water. If that’s a bit too boring, try sparkling water with lemon or a splash of juice. (Get more tips for drinking without killing your calorie budget here.)