The winter holidays tend to be packed with food-filled celebrations, including many treats that only appear once a year. It can be tricky, at best, to keep eating healthfully. In fact, the National Institutes of Health notesthat Americans tend to gain between 1 and 2 pounds during the holidays. That may not seem like much, but the vast majority of us don’t shed that extra weight in the following weeks, making us progressively heavier each year. That said, no one wants to be Puritanical during such a festive season. So how do you keep those holiday indulgences in check? Here are some of my favorite strategies:
Eat a little less at other times of the day, and make sure those meals and snacks are really healthy.
Get into the habit of serving yourself smaller portions, or leaving a bite or two of food on your plate, to help moderate your overall calorie intake. If you’re making your own meals and snacks, emphasize produce, whole grains, and lean protein to make sure you get the nutrition you need and save your discretionary calories for treats.
Exercise a little more.
Burn off a few of those extra calories during workouts and by moving a little more throughout your day. Tack on an extra 10 minutes to your regular workout, schedule an additional sweat session, push yourself a little harder (consider adding high-intensity intervals), or try a new exercise class to challenge your muscles. During the day, take more frequent breaks to get up from your desk, use the stairs whenever possible, park as far away from the entrance as you can, and sneak in strength moves during commercial breaks when you watch TV.
Indulge selectively—make sure those calories are worth it.
Don’t settle for sub-par food. Save your splurges for the few items you look forward to all year (Pecan pie! Stuffing!) and pass on the store-bought cookies a coworker left in the office kitchen. If you’re not sure just by looking at a treat if it will be worth the calories, serve yourself a miniscule portion or take just a bite. If it doesn’t meet your “worth it” criteria, don’t be afraid to discard the rest when no one is looking. (This is also an acceptable strategy if you’re dealing with food pushers who won’t let you decline what they’re offering.) When you do eat something delicious, savor every bite!
Plan eating strategies ahead of time.
Whether you’re attending a party or get ambushed by a coworker offering to share her stash of peppermint bark, deciding ahead of time how many treats you’ll partake in can help you keep indulgences to a minimum. For example, limit yourself to six bite-sized options at the Christmas party and one special treat per day. Then stick to your plan!
Find non-food ways to deal with stress.
The holidays bring up all kinds of emotions—good and bad—which can derail your best eating intentions. When I’m tempted to overload my plate with comfort foods, I find it helpful to remember that a food hangover is also stressful, and often uncomfortable. That makes it easier to stick with my original strategy (see above) and back away from the buffet table. Then I can deal with my emotions in healthier ways. In the moment, that might look like chatting with a friend in another room away from the food. Throughout the season, I use other approaches to stay sane (exercise—with its mental as well as physical benefits—is a favorite).
If you do gain weight during the holidays, don’t beat yourself up, but be intentional about shedding those extra pounds.
Even if you’re not a New Year’s resolution kind of person, make an effort to lose any weight that you did gain during the holidays and get your eating back on track once the treats are put away for another year.