Some people just accept that between Halloween and New Years Day, they will gain weight. This does not have to be the case, no matter how many parties and family gatherings you go to or batches of cookies you make. Pssst research shows that people actually don’t gain that much weight around the holidays (about 2 pounds), but the weight we gain does tend to stick on us permanently. Holiday weight gain is a major contributor to the slow, steady increase on the scale we see as we age (note: gaining weight as we age isn’t something we need to accept either, but that is another post for another day).
Maintaining your usual healthy lifestyle all year round will help keep your energy high, your immune system robust, and your weight stable.
Since the holiday season is filled with so many tempting treats and we are bombarded with exceptionally effective marketing, it may take a little more mindfulness to maintain your habits.
Remember the behaviors that keep you in shape for the rest of the year, and make sure you’re continuing those during this festive season.
Sweat every day.
Or however much you normally do (or maybe a tad more if you must have treats several times a week). Normally go to spin class on Monday nights? Keep going. Lift weights twice a week? Pump away. Do you take a walk every night after dinner? Bundle up and have at it! It’s not complicated—keep up the good work.
What if your fitness class is cancelled or the snow is too deep to get out for your run? Get in the holiday spirit by running around in the snow! Build a snowman or shovel the sidewalk (go shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk too—‘tis the season for giving!)—staying active while having fun is the key to sustainable physical activity habits.
Eat balanced meals.
You know what a balanced meal looks like. Half the plate loaded with veggies and maybe some fruit, the other half split between whole grains and lean protein. Make sure you’ve got a little healthy fat and a good calcium source in there and you’re good to go. Your nutritional needs don’t magically change just because sleigh bells are ringing.
Use pragmatic strategies. If you know you’re having a decadent dessert, cut back on other added sugars and starchy carbohydrate foods that day.
Do not skip meals. This strategy of fasting and binging throughout the holiday season is seriously deleterious. The best thing you can do is model healthy eating throughout all meals, even your holiday dinner.
There are usually leftovers, so why stuff yourself into agony at one meal? If there are many dishes you want to try, choose a small portion so you can enjoy a couple bites of each. Eat a normal-sized, balanced meal and then get out for a walk. I promise you will feel a million times better than if you gorge and then have to lay in a stupor for the rest of the day.
Treat treats like treats.
Would you normally eat pumpkin bread for breakfast and have candy with lunch and a piece of pie after dinner? No. Choose one treat and eat a small portion of it.
This point is also for people who get so freaked out by holiday indulgences that they swear off them altogether. You can enjoy holiday treats—just do so mindfully (Do you really want pie today? If not, pass on it and wait until you’re really craving it—you know it will be around!) and with proper portion control (a few bites is all you need).
This strategy sounds scary to some (ahhh but I will lose control if I’m near it!) but with practice (and guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist if you’re serious about changing your eating habits and relationship with food), treats will no longer have control over you.
Go easy on alcohol.
Overindulgence in alcohol is one of the main overlooked reasons people gain weight as adults. The average Christmas Ale contains about 220 calories. You could easily consume an extra 500-1,000 calories in one evening just through alcohol.
Remember that women should have no more than 1 drink per day and men should have no more than 2 drinks per day (this is considered moderate alcohol consumption—any more than this and you’re putting yourself at risk for health problems).
Pick the best cocktail, sip slowly and enjoy. Then switch to water or seltzer (getting festive by adding some cranberries, of course!).
Get enough rest.
With all the extra hours spent holiday shopping, decorating and wrapping gifts, sleep may suffer. Not to mention all those fun holiday parties. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night to maintain healthy mind and body function.
Don’t cheat on sleep. The adverse effects of not getting enough rest range from poor work performance, concentration, and crankiness in the short-term to weight gain and memory loss in the long-term.
Adequate rest is quite underrated in my opinion. When you’re tired, many healthful habits suffer. You may not have enough energy for your workout and pass up healthy snacks for potato chips. Is staying up an extra hour or two worth a groggy and non-productive tomorrow? No. Turn off the screens, settle down and get cozy under the covers.
What strategies do you use to maintain your health over the holidays? Share in the comments below!