The holiday season is here, and with it come celebrations with family, friends, and lots of food. While the holidays are a time for joy, weight loss maintenance studies show more than half of Americans gain at least a pound and 10 percent gain 5 pounds or more.
For those who have worked hard all year to lose weight or to stay healthy, stepping on the scale after the holidays can be a huge shock, especially because the pounds tend to stay on.
So how can you get through the holidays while maintaining your weight? A few simple weight loss maintenance tips you may already know and a few new ones can minimize damage to your waistline during the feasting season.
Try these 25 healthy weight maintenance tips aimed at avoiding holiday weight gain:
1. Eat Breakfast
According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78% of dieters who are successful in long-term weight loss maintenance eat breakfast every day. Starting the day off with a healthy meal that includes plenty of low-fat protein and fiber helps you feel fuller longer, preventing overeating. Breakfast skippers have higher BMIs than breakfast eaters and are 4.5 times more likely to be obese, so start your day right to stay on track the rest of the day.
2. Stop Stress
Pre-holiday deadlines, managing travel, planning parties, and crowds at the mall – any of these is enough to drive someone right into the arms of a cookie or candy cane. Take time to breathe, stretch, take a relaxing walk, or do some yoga. If you feel calm, you’re less likely to engage in emotional-eating, and you’ll reduce your levels of the belly-fat-causing stress hormone, cortisol.
3. Don't Skip Meals
Calorie “saving” is ineffective when you skip meals to make up for others. Feeling hungry can backfire and cause you to overindulge at your next meal. If you know you have a dinner party that evening, eat, but eat lighter. Have a lighter-than-usual breakfast and lunch that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and some lean protein, and you’ll be less likely to make up those calories (and then some) at dinner.
4. Keep a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary is an essential tool for managing weight throughout the year, but it can be especially helpful during the holidays when you’re surrounded by treats and sweets. A candy cane here, some hot cocoa there – keeping track of what you eat can make you more aware of your choices so you can moderate your “cheats.” Simply thinking about healthy weight goals and progress can double your chances of keeping weight off.
5. Make a Date With the Scale
Three quarters of National Weight Control Registry participants who are successful in long-term weight loss maintenance weigh themselves at least once a week. Weighing yourself at least once a week is recommended year-round, but try to monitor your weight more frequently during December. Early detection can deter additional weight gain, and people who weigh themselves regularly are 1.76 times more likely to maintain their weight loss.
6. Find a Holiday Buddy
Partnering with a like-minded, health-conscious friend through the holidays can be your secret weapon. Friends can encourage healthy behavior, provide moral support, and be a helping hand or ear during this stressful but celebratory season.
7. Keep Treats out of Sight
It’s close to impossible to avoid treats during this season, especially when they are one of the most popular gifts, both to give and receive. “Out of sight, out of mind” means out of belly, especially now. Keep cakes, cookies, candies, and other goodies in opaque containers. Sweets may look pretty in clear jars, but opaque jars are more likely to stay filled.
8. Keep Your Mouth Busy When Cooking
It’s easy to taste-test a bit too much when you’re cooking or baking for the holidays. Chew a piece of sugar-free gum while you’re in the kitchen. Call up a friend or relative and wish them a happy holiday. Chewing or chatting will prevent unnecessary chowing.
9. Ruin Your Appetite
Eating a healthy snack before a big party can help you avoid overeating, and the same goes for going holiday shopping at malls pushing seasonal holiday sweets. Grab a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit, or munch on some veggies. The protein and fiber in these foods will help curb hunger and take up valuable stomach space.
10. Bring a Healthy Dish
Holiday parties are often potlucks, so you may have the option of contributing a delicious and healthy dish to the dinner table. This way, you are guaranteed at least one dish you don’t have to feel guilty about.
11. Buy, Don't Bake
Desserts are a popular party item and host or hostess gift, but when you bake, you often bake too much and sneak more bites than you should. Stopping at a bakery before going to a party can prevent this and allow you to bring a fresher dessert.
12. Pick a Small Plate
Our eyes can deceive us – and this can be a good thing! The bigger the plate, the more food we need on it to feel like we have enough food. By using a smaller plate, we feel like there’s plenty of food on our plate – and that’s often the case. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables or salad, and leave just ¼ for meat and ¼ for starches. Portion control makes successful weight maintenance 1.6 times more likely.
13. Be Sauce-Savvy
Covering your plate in gravy might seem like a wonderful idea, but we all know that gravy’s flavor comes from fat and starch. Cranberry sauce can be full of sugar, and even spicy horseradish can be deceiving, as it’s often made with heavy cream. Know what’s in your food and go easy on the sauces – you’ll find that you can really enjoy the flavors of your food when they’re not drowned in sauce.
14. Slow Your Eating
Studies show that people who eat quickly eat up to 52% more food than those who eat slowly and chew small bites for at least 9 seconds. They are also over three times more likely to be overweight. Chew more, and do it slowly; give your body time to realize it’s full, and you’ll find yourself eating less.
15. Wait Before Going for Seconds
Too often, we eat to the point of fullness, but we don’t realize that we are actually overfull. It takes the stomach about 20 minutes to send signals to the brain that it’s full, so give yourself time before going back to the buffet. Sit back, enjoy conversation, and sip on a drink. You’ll find that you may not actually need to eat more.
16. Go Easy on the Alcohol
Celebrations and drinks go hand in hand, but boozy beverages are often surprising diet busters. With 450 calories, a glass of eggnog is a meal in itself! Try to stick to 100-calorie drinks like your favorite liquor on the rocks or mixed with club soda. A glass of wine or a light beer will also come close to that figure-saving figure. And half wine and half soda will make a wine spritzer that has half the alcohol and half the calories, letting you enjoy two guilt-free drinks instead of one.
17. Practice Saying "No" Politely
When you’re a guest, you may feel forced to clean your plate, empty your glass, and accept everything your host offers. Learning to say no politely can make saying “no” much easier. “Thank you, but I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Everything was so delicious,” or “No, thank you, I’ve had more than enough. You’re a wonderful cook and generous host,” can help you stay courteous while declining. After all, your host is more interested in your company than your appetite.
18. Brush Your Teeth After Meals
Brushing and flossing after a meal will stop you from eating and drinking more. Not only that, you can be confident about your smile (and breath) while you spend the rest of the evening socializing.
Ninety percent of National Weight Control Registry participants who are successful in long-term weight loss maintenance exercise on average 1 hour a day and 62% watch less than 10 hours of television a week. The most frequently reported form of activity was walking. Set aside time each day to get your exercise because a consistent exercise routine doubles the odds of keeping the weight off. Getting 20-30 minutes of exercise in the morning will ensure you get your daily workout, boost your metabolism, and keep you energized throughout the day. Shopping doesn’t count – unless you’re willing to take a brisk 15 – 20 minute walk around the mall before you start your holiday spending.
20. Plan Winter Activities
Winter activities abound during the holiday season, and they are so fun you often forget to think of them as exercise. Sledding and skiing are a great way to spend time outdoors, and ice-skating is available even in the warmest of winter climates.
21. Don't Forget to Sleep
We can get so busy celebrating that we don’t get enough sleep. But studies have shown that sleep is an important factor in maintaining weight loss. Not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep nightly can add to stress and add inches to our waist.
22. Dress to Impress
Holiday parties are the perfect time to pull out that show-stopping number you keep in the closet. Wear clothes that show off your figure instead of hiding it. Add a fashionable belt to your ensemble. Form-fitting clothes will keep you conscious of what you eat and let you know when you’ve had enough.
23. Be Fashionably Late
Arriving at a party after cocktail hour can help you avoid unnecessary calories in the form of hors d’oeuvres and drinks.
24. Create a Holiday Calendar
If you know when you’ll be indulging, it’s easier to manage the rest of your days. You can exercise more vigorously, plan healthier meals to offset the days when you will be attending parties, and make plans for fun outdoor activities on your free days.
25. Focus on Fun
When you’re socializing with family and friends, it’s easy to get lost in conversation. Let yourself go – indulge in catching up and laughing. After all, conversation has zero calories!
Yo-yo weight gain is bad for your body, heart, and your spirit. Survive the festive feasting by focusing on family, friends, and fun instead of food. Happy holidays!