The holidays are a perfect time to celebrate. The question is, how much? During the holidays, most people attend a number of festive events – and nearly all of them center around food. Add shopping, seasonal stress and a limited time to exercise or cook, and you have a perfect recipe for holiday weight gain. Studies show the average American gains one to two pounds over the holidays. The bigger problem? Those pounds tend to become permanent.
Healthy eating can be a realistic goal for your holiday season, but it does require some planning. Just as you budget your money to manage spending, here are 10 nutrition tips you can employ to navigate the holidays.
Be realistic: The holidays are not the best time to set a goal to lose weight. The average person gains one to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. But far above a number on the scale, or the size of a pair of jeans, what matters most in life is living it. Remember what the holiday season is about and set an intention to be present and enjoy it. Setting a goal to maintain your weight during the holidays is more realistic, and will allow you to enjoy the season.
Eat smart: You will have any number of parties to attend this season and you cannot go with an empty stomach. A strategy that involves skipping meals to “save calories” is a sure set up for failure. Showing up hungry to a party is a prescription for an impromptu thousand calorie binge. Don’t do it. Eat a light meal before you go, and you will arrive in better control of your appetite and ultimately end up eating less.
Control your environment: Willpower is not your friend. Faced with temptation, nine times out of ten sheer willpower will fail you. Did you know in any given endeavor only 3 percent of people succeed? Success requires a plan and a plan requires action. While you can’t control everything at a party, especially if it’s not your own, you do have some options. Be social. The more you talk the less you’ll eat. Try to be one of the last people to sit down. You won’t be nibbling while you wait. When you do, try to sit next to a healthy eater. There’s strength and accountability in numbers. If possible, wait until all the food is on the table and choose what you will eat instead of taking a little bit from every platter that is passed.
Choose wisely: Speaking of choosing from which platter to take; research suggests that you’ll consume the largest quantity of the foods you eat first. Set yourself up for success by starting with something low-calorie. With appetizers, opt for fresh veggies and hummus, over chips and dip or breaded and fried foods. At dinner, lean toward protein, white meat and remove skin or noticeable fat.
Manage portions: Downsize your plate to trick your brain into thinking you are eating more. The average number of calories eaten at a holiday dinner is a whopping 3,000, and that doesn’t count pre-dinner appetizers, alcohol or snacking. If you make eating like this a month-long holiday tradition then it’s possible to gain a pound a day! By choosing a salad plate instead of a dinner plate, you can trick your eyes and slash 40 percent of those calories without even trying.
Limit alcohol: It’s easy to lose track of drinks at a party and we all know what happens when we do. Holiday cheer hits the dancefloor, two drinks quickly lead to five, and all bets are off. If possible, leave some evidence behind. An empty bottle or glass may make you less tempted to pour another. If you need outside help, ask. Tell a friend, partner or spouse you want to limit yourself to two drinks, and ask them to help hold you to it.
Keep track of your eating: While tracking daily calories may have once been a chore, today it’s as easy as clicking a button. Whether it’s the holiday season or an ordinary day in the middle of March, the benefit of a daily tracking app is awareness. It’s likely you don’t need to track your eating long term, but you can use it as a tool in your toolbox. You may not realize how many calories are in that snack you didn’t really want, or the fancy drink you didn’t even like. You may also find that you’re not getting nearly the amount of protein you need, or consuming too many carbs. As with any tool, it’s meant to help, and you may be surprised to find you actually like it.
Keep healthy snacks on hand: This time of year finds all of us a little off-schedule. Last minute shopping trips, school parties, meal planning, gift wrapping and endless holiday cheer-making have us all burning the candle at both ends. No one makes good decisions when they’re tired. Or hungry. When your schedule finds you off-schedule, have a healthy option close by. A protein shake that you just add water, fresh veggies and hummus, homemade Lara bars, string cheese, hard boiled eggs or RX bars are some good options.
Stay active: Commit to making time for two to three workouts a week, no matter what. If you don’t have time for the whole thing at once, break it up. Small bouts of exercise throughout the day still add up. Besides, that workout may be just what you need to take the edge off the added pressure and stress of the holidays. January will come. Be happy when you meet it.
Choose your indulgence: It’s the holidays. Chances are there is a signature dish or specialty dessert you absolutely love and look forward to with great anticipation or dread. For me, it’s Williams Sonoma Peppermint Bark. If you’ve never had it, don’t. No peppermint bark will ever measure up to it’s perfectly balanced deliciousness. Every December I know I will buy one tin and hide it from everyone else in my family and enjoy it all without any shame, sharing or guilt. I’ve chosen it and it has chosen me and we’ve made peace. Chances are there’s something you love too. Choose it and make peace. Knowing that you can eliminates the uncontrollable allure of “can’t.”
The holidays are meant to be joyful. Don’t add more stress to the season by setting unrealistic goals for yourself or, conversely, throwing all restraint and good habits to the wind. Try to land someplace in the middle. As with any goal, healthy eating can be a practical goal for your holiday season if you plan ahead. Be flexible. Enjoy the season. You’ll make it safely through if, (most of the time) you are realistic, mindful, intentional, reasonable, sober, and active.
So go ahead. Consider this your holiday permission slip to eat, drink and be merry. In moderation.