The average person gains 1 to 2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and those who are overweight often gain more, including children. Research shows that holiday weight gain is a major contributor to total yearly weight gain, so why not resolve to maintain your weight this holiday season? Here are 10 tips that may help.
Never go to a party or dinner famished
Start the day with a protein-rich breakfast – eggs, a smoothie, Greek yogurt – as this can help control your appetite throughout the day. In addition, have a healthy snack that includes protein, fiber and/or a little healthy fat – fruit, nuts, turkey slices, yogurt, carrots and hummus or a protein bar – before heading out the door so you don’t make a dash for the cheese tray or bread basket the minute you arrive.
Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altman gives her kids nut butter and sliced apples, cheese sticks, berries and yogurt prior to a party and advises that parents focus more on what kids should be eating rather than what they can’t or shouldn’t. Teach them what’s important to eat for their brain and body: protein, fresh fruit and veggies, dairy, and then sweet treats in moderation are fine for a holiday dessert.
Downsize your plate
Using larger plates at a buffet is associated with weighing more, and larger portions can increase calorie intake significantly – and not just in adults. A study in children found that using larger plates significantly increased both the amount they served themselves and their calorie intake.
Plate color seems to make a difference, too. A recent study also found that people ate 150 fewer calories when eating off white plates versus red or black plates.
Survey the buffet before filling your plate
Studies show that people who survey a buffet before filling their plate tended to be trimmer. This is probably because they took the time to decide what they were going to indulge in rather than just loading up their plates as they went.
When filling your plate, registered dietician Ashley Koff suggests using her Better Bites & Sips Rule: When choosing what you eat or drink, it should be a seven to 10 on a scale of one to 10, where one is medicine you have to force yourself to swallow and 10 is the best bite or sip you’ve ever had. Anything else, pass on, as we gain weight and get unhealthy from all the three to sixes we consume because they are “just there.”
And weight loss specialist Dr. Adrienne Youdim tells patients, “Eat what you want, provided that half your plate is green. By necessity, this cuts down on heavy stuff when you gotta get greens in.”
Make time for exercise
Don’t skip workouts, and be active whenever possible to burn off those holiday indulgences before they start to accumulate around your midsection. Take the stairs at the mall, park farther away at the grocery store, do pushups and jumping jacks while watching TV, and plan active outings for your family.
Gunnar Peterson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ director of strength and endurance, suggests sequencing your strength-training workout by rotating through an upper-body exercise, a lower-body exercise and a core exercise, with no rest in between, to blast calories, build (or maintain) calorie-burning muscle and save time.
Not only are cocktails and alcoholic beverages high in calories, they increase appetite and decrease eating restraint, so they are a triple threat when it comes to maintaining your weight over the holidays. You don’t need to restrict alcohol completely, just make sure to skip the high-sugar mixed drinks (opt for club and lime as a mixer instead) and alternate each alcoholic beverage (or any high-calorie drink) with a glass of sparkling water, Youdim suggests.
Be wary of bite-size offerings
Bite-size appetizers and desserts can quickly add up to hundreds of extra calories, so pay attention and don’t mindlessly eat appetizers or load your dessert plate with bite-size desserts. Limiting variety can help limit intake, as people tend to feel less satiated with more variety.
Get on the scale regularly
A new study in the British Medical Journal found that people who weighed themselves at least twice a week did not gain the typical 1 to 2 pounds that the average person gains over the holidays. If you hate weighing yourself, you can also choose a pair of snug pants to try on weekly to make sure your weight isn’t creeping up.
Get enough sleep
Holiday parties, family dinners, shopping and travel can all cut into your sleep time, but do your best to get six to eight hours of sleep most nights. A study of adolescents found that intake of sweets increased 52% after sleep restriction, and total calorie intake increased 11%.
Eat less the day before or after indulging
Manage your calories like finances, nutrition physician Dr. Zhaoping Li suggests. If you have to borrow money, make money right away. It can be helpful to eat water-rich foods when you aren’t going out to fill up with fewer calories. When you don’t have social obligations, eat lots of non-cream-based soups, vegetables, yogurt, fruit and smoothies to balance out the extra calories you will be consuming the rest of the time.
Get rid of leftovers
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If you are having a party, stock up on Tupperware and send guests home with the leftovers, especially tasty holiday desserts. Not only will they appreciate the holiday spirit, you won’t be tempted by less healthy leftovers for the next few days.
Try implementing as many of these tips as possible, and you may be pleasantly surprised when you step on the scale in January.
Dr. Melina Jampolis is an internist and board-certified physician nutrition specialist and author of several books, including “Spice Up, Slim Down.”