These seven practical steps can make a difference
By Rashelle Brown for Next Avenue
With the holidays right around the corner, your calendar is probably already filling up with friendly parties, formal dinners and family gatherings. All of that celebrating can take a toll on the body. Polls and scientific studies estimate that many Americans gain between one and five pounds during the holiday season.
This wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of us won’t lose that weight over the next year. By the time we reach our fifties and beyond, the accumulation of those holiday pounds can pose a significant health risk. To help you enjoy this holiday season without gaining extra weight, here are seven tips you and your family can use:
7 practical, everyday tips
These seven tips are specific little things that are easy to implement throughout the holiday season and will help keep you from consuming more calories than you burn.
- Eat before attending events. Knowing that you have a holiday party coming up in the evening, you might think it’s a good idea to eat less throughout the day, but that’s actually setting yourself up for an overindulgence disaster. By eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, you’ll ensure a constant supply of energy and reduce the likelihood of party-time cravings and the associated bingeing.
Your best buffer against consuming a ton of empty calories at a party is to eat a fiber- and nutrient-dense meal or substantial snack right before you head to the party. Some good options are a lightly dressed salad with plenty of veggies and legumes, a bowl of bean soup or a healthy whole grain pilaf.
- Employ the every-other rule with alcohol. One of the biggest calorie culprits at holiday gatherings is that cup of cheer. Alcoholic drinks can contain 80 to 500+ calories per serving and, what’s worse, studies have shown that drinking alcohol makes it likely you’ll consume more food calories as well. One of the tactics I describe in my weight-loss book, Reboot Your Body: Unlocking the Genetic Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss, is what I call the “every-other” rule, which requires you to drink a full glass of water between every alcoholic beverage you consume. Doing this makes you feel fuller and keeps you hydrated, which can be important for regulating hunger signals.
- Go green, and red and orange. Some holiday events are more formal affairs, involving sit-down dinners rather than roaming appetizer platters. In those instances, you can greatly reduce the number of calories you consume by opting for the plant-based entrée and by starting with a large salad free of meats, cheeses and creamy dressings. By filling up on fibrous vegetables, legumes and whole grains, you’ll be less likely to overeat when the dessert tray comes rolling by.
- Double down on exercise. Another good way to fight holiday weight gain is by offsetting extra calories consumed with more calories burned. If you already exercise regularly, now is the time to ramp up your routine, either by adding more minutes or by upping the intensity.
If you don’t exercise, but are healthy enough to do so, then starting now — rather than waiting for Jan. 1 to roll around — is a good idea. If you can’t dedicate a big chunk of time to exercise every day, look for ways to work more activity into your normal daily routine. Breaking up a workout into two shorter sessions is one good strategy, but doing many short bouts of exercise throughout the day is just as effective in terms of the calorie burn. These short “activity snacks” can also be a good way to re-energize whenever you find yourself feeling sluggish.
- Rethink your holiday traditions. There’s no doubt that food and drink are important elements of many holiday traditions, but I encourage you to ask yourself whether they should be the central elements of those traditions. Imagine a holiday season that places more emphasis on the gathering and fellowship among friends and family and less emphasis on the meals and treats.
At my family’s gatherings, many things change from year to year, but one thing remains the same: There is always too much of everything. By taking a more moderate approach and limiting your holiday smorgasbord to a very few delicious traditional dishes, you can actually create a greater sense of enjoyment. With less competition on the buffet table, guests can slow down and better appreciate what’s in front of them.
- Start your day by setting your intentions. This is a quick and easy strategy to implement, and by doing it every day it becomes powerfully effective. When you first wake up, before you do anything else, take one or two minutes to set your healthy habit intentions for the day. Think about the events you’ll be attending and how you plan to navigate them. Remind yourself that the holiday season is about connecting with others and practicing gratitude and compassion, and that the overconsumption of food and drink doesn’t need to be a part of that.
- Share your goals with family and friends. One of the keys to behavior change I write about in my book is building a strong social network to support your healthy habits. By telling others about your healthy holiday goals you gain two advantages. First, you reduce or eliminate potential obstacles; once your friends and family know about your goals, they’ll be less likely to put you in tempting situations and more likely to offer emotional support. Second, by making your intentions known to others, you add an important accountability check against your actions. You won’t be as likely to grab another cookie or glass of champagne in front of a friend who’s part of your accountability circle.
By implementing these tips, you can create and participate in a holiday season that’s festive, full of enjoyment, and missing nothing but the extra pounds.
I don’t know about you, but this holiday season I’m looking forward to a Jan. 1 that doesn’t involve an emergency weight loss plan!