The holiday season is one of the most difficult times of the year for anyone looking to lose fat or even maintain their current weight. This time of year just happens to be full of delicious foods tempting us at every turn and meals with family members that we want to enjoy. It’s also a time when most of us notice that our pants start to fit a bit more tightly than we like.So for those wondering how you can make this holiday season your healthiest, get ready. This blog is for you!
We’ll go through some of the research around holiday weight gain and share 10 actionable tips that can help you feel your best during this already crazy holiday season.
The basics of gaining weight.
Since we’re going to talk about how to skip gaining weight over the holidays, it’s also helpful to get a brief primer on how we do gain weight. This is where energy balance comes into play. But don’t worry, it’s simple.
If the amount of food you’re taking in outweighs the number of calories you’re burning — weight is gained. This doesn’t happen overnight, though.
Gaining and losing weight happens over a long arc of time. One meal doesn’t lead to lasting weight loss, just as one meal doesn’t lead to lasting weight gain. Plenty of us have eaten a big meal and felt like we ruined our diet, but that’s hardly the case. What does ruin our diet is when that big meal then turns into weeks straight of overeating.
Where do the holiday’s factor in?
On average, we gain anywhere between 0.88 – 1.54 pounds during the holiday season, yearly. That doesn’t sound like a lot, right? But remember, gaining and losing weight are slow-going processes. The holidays get us into trouble because the weight we gain is retained over the following months.
In fact, research shows us that the weight we gain around the holidays accounts for about ½ of the weight we gain over the course of a year. Any guesses as to what might account for the other half?
If you guessed vacations, you may pass go and collect $200.
Taking a step back, gaining a pound over the holiday season might not feel like a lot. And in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t! But remember: this weight we gain typically stays around. Adding an additional pound for 5-10-15 years is how our weight starts to snowball.
Wait. So we’re really eating that much during the holidays?
This is where things get surprising. It doesn’t take a lot of food to lead to more weight being gained. It only takes a little bit of food on most days. For example, research tells us most people only eat about 55 extra calories a day this time of year.
Those calories could come from half a slice of cheese, one Oreo, an extra ⅓ a glass of wine, or snacking off of your kid’s plate. Add in the fact that around this time of the year most of us are eating tasty snacks and drinking a bit more, it’s easy to see where an extra 55 calories or more can sneak into our diet day after day.
But can we burn that off?
Unfortunately, trying to exercise more to mitigate seasonal weight gain doesn’t work out the way we hope. Exercise is great, and it’s something we encourage everyone to do if they can. But don’t treat exercise as a tool to manage your weight. That’s a slippery slope we’ve talked about before.
How to make this holiday season your healthiest.
An often overlooked piece of managing the holidays is thinking ahead of time. No, we’re not talking about last-minute shopping. We’re talking about planning ahead for yourself and your health. This holiday season, set your intention for how you want to feel when it’s over. Define what success during this season would look like for you, which also means setting realistic expectations.
For many of us, it’s understandably frustrating when weight loss slows down. But during the holiday season, it might help shift our expectations and focus on maintaining our weight. That way, we’re avoiding the pitfalls of feeling frustrated when the scale isn’t going down.
To help with this, we’ve put together a Holiday planning guide that can help you plan ahead, set your intentions, and make sure your expectations set you up for success. You can download that guide here.
But intentions and expectations aren’t everything. They help, of course. But we all know that actionable and straightforward tips can help just as well. So let’s get to 10 of our favorite tips to skip the unwanted weight gain this year.
1. Load up on vegetables
Vegetables fill us up because they’re a low-calorie and high volume food, meaning they take up room in our stomach without a bunch of calories. Prioritizing vegetables at a holiday get-together or before a big meal is a simple way to make sure that you get fuller more quickly, which can help you stay on track later on.
2. Use your hands to track portions
We’re big fans of tracking and monitoring, but we also don’t think you should feel like you’ve got to bring a food scale to your holiday meals. Instead, rely on your hands to keep your portions in check. The chart below from WeightWatchers is just one of many out there that can serve as a helpful guide.
3. Set boundaries around alcohol
Don’t be afraid to set a drink limit for yourself, pick days you will and won’t drink, or some other boundary. Alcohol is a big culprit when it comes to gaining weight this time of year because it can lead to more cravings and impaired decision making. Oh, and we often forget that alcohol has calories as well!
4. Don’t show up with an empty stomach
What tends to happen when we’re starving? We eat much more! When you know that you’re going to have a holiday meal, plan ahead of time by filling up on a meal that you can feel great about ahead of time. That way you’re less likely to overeat later on.
5. Have some non-negotiable healthy behaviors
Walk 10,000 steps a day. If you’re working out regularly, stick to that program. Drink plenty of water daily. Whatever your behaviors are is up to you. What’s important is that you prioritize healthy behaviors outside of food and the scale to help you feel your best.
6. Food on your plate vs. grazing
When we have food on our plate, it’s far easier to control how much we’re eating vs. when we graze from the platters of tasty snack food. Our brains have a tougher time registering how full we are when we’re constantly grazing vs. eating a plate full of food. So even you plan to indulge, do it by eating off your plate.
Sleeping well is a true superpower. Being well-rested reduces hunger, reduces stress, and can help influence you to make better choices on a regular basis. Lean on the power of sleep this year and let it help you manage your decisions.
8. There will always be more food
One of the biggest ways we tend to get ourselves in trouble around the holidays is we fall victim to the idea that this is a special day and a special meal. Because we feel it’s so special, we just have to eat everything in front of us. But remember, the holiday season tends to come with quite a bit of food and opportunities to eat that food! You don’t have to eat past the point of being full just because there’s food around.
9. Make it fun!
Eating a great meal with family and feeling great the next day is fun! Compare that to eating too much and getting uncomfortably full? Not quite so much. This is a great time of year to prioritize the fun of playing games, spending time together, and making memories with family. Those will be the things we remember years from now. Not the third cookie we went back for.
10. Be kind to yourself
The holiday seasons have their ups and downs. If you make a mistake or go off track, don’t beat yourself up. These things happen! Nobody expects you to be perfect this time of year. One day doesn’t have a major impact unless that day turns into one week, which then turns into eating with reckless abandon the whole holiday season.
There you have it. Download the holiday guide. Set your intentions. Follow our 10 tips. And most importantly: have a happy holiday season, SU’ers!