With the lockdown restrictions of Covid-19 mostly behind us and vaccines readily available, many of us are planning holiday get-togethers, family gatherings, and even holiday office parties. With these events come the opportunity to indulge in an abundance of high calorie food and drinks that we do not normally eat during the rest of the year. Couple this with less exercise, decreased sleep, and increased stress, and you have the perfect storm of factors for unwanted weight gain.
Multiple longitudinal studies have shown that between mid-November and mid-January, adults gain an average of one pound and up to five pounds in individuals who are overweight or obese. This may not sound like a lot, but the real problem is that this weight is not lost after the holidays are over. A 2020 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that looked at the impact of holiday weight gain, determined that the majority of study participants did not lose the weight they gained during the six week holiday period after one year. These people were likely to see their weight increase each year and risk becoming obese. This annual weight gain can result in a cumulative weight gain of 15-20 pounds or more.
So, what can one do to enjoy the holiday season while maintaining healthy habits? Here are five strategies to use.
1) Continue to Exercise: The NEJM article found that those individuals who exercised regularly through the holiday period were least likely to gain weight. If you cannot do your usual exercise routine, try walking more. At the mall or shopping center, park your car as far away from the entrance as possible to get more steps. Take stairs whenever possible. Get together with friends for a walk to look at neighborhood holiday lights to get some exercise and enjoy the company of others.
2) Watch the Taste Testing: Planning to bake cookies and cakes for gifts or parties? Be careful with taste testing, as calories can add up with each taste of a batter. Same is true for dips, cheese plates, and starchy vegetables laden with butter. Cook only after a meal or snack to reduce tasting because of hunger or keep a plate of fruits and vegetables nearby if you want to nibble on something. And if you must taste, keep it small and savor it.
3) Plan Ahead for Holiday Meals: If you are going to a gathering where many of your favorite holiday foods will be served, plan to eat a smaller lunch to save some calories to enjoy them. But do not arrive starving as you will be likely to overeat. If the host has shared the menu decide in advance what foods you will enjoy. Limit alcohol consumption as it can decrease awareness of how much you are eating. Have sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice in a fancy glass to feel festive.
4) Watch the Portion Sizes: At a buffet dinner or lunch choose the smallest plate possible and take a few items at a time rather than stack your plate. Load up on vegetables first and take lesser amounts of meat, potatoes, pasta, and bread. Individual appetizers can add up quickly too. If you want a treat, enjoy one of your favorite holiday items and enjoy it without guilt. Labeling foods as off-limits and restricting yourself can lead to overeating.
5) Control Your Own Destiny: When attending a party or family dinner offer to bring an appetizer or side dish so you know there will be a healthy option. Make your favorite dip using yogurt or sour cream, rather than mayo, and serve it with baked chips or vegetables. Create a vegetable crudité of roasted and raw vegetables. Offer to make a fiber filled quinoa or farro based salad for a side. Bringing lower calorie foods that you enjoy ensures there will be food at the meal that you can eat without worrying about your waistline.