Do you love the holidays as much as I do? The holidays mean sparkly lights throughout houses, neighborhoods, and cities; games and laughter with extended family; annual bakes and exchanges; holiday celebrations with friends and co-workers; evenings by the fire with long-time-favorite carols playing; and so much more. Encircled by nostalgic memories—both past and present—there’s no other season like it. And the food! Is there any other time of year when faced with such an abundance of tempting treats, savory indulgences, and decadent drinks? How can anyone possibly avoid holiday weight gain?
Here’s some good news: Believe it or not, holiday weight gain is exaggerated by most sources. While the media often reports that people gain up to 10 pounds over the holidays, research has shown that the typical holiday weight gain is actually only ½ – 2 pounds. The challenge, it seems, is that once that weight is gained—despite the staunchest New Year’s Resolutions— it’s rarely lost. So, year after year, the pounds continue to accumulate. This is why it’s best to avoid holiday weight gain in the first place rather than waiting for the New Year to take it off.
But, how? Great question! Here are 10 easy tips to help you avoid holiday weight gain while still enjoying all the goodness that the season has to offer:
10 Easy Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
- Avoid Hunger: You’ve likely heard that you should never go to the grocery store hungry. This is good advice for any time you know you’ll be facing temptation. If you’re heading to a party, dinner, or even a cookie exchange, enjoy a pre-event meal or snack that contains protein and fiber, which will help you feel full and satisfied.
- Limit Variety: Enjoy a wide range of experiences this season, but when it comes to food, if you limit choices, you can also squash the temptation to try one of everything.
- Vegetables First: Do you find yourself snacking as you’re cooking and baking? Sometimes it can feel like an overwhelming feat of willpower to not sample the full menu. One simple trick to help avoid holiday weight gain is to have a plate of pre-cut vegetables handy while you bake or prepare your meals. You’ll enjoy a tasty crunch and keep your mouth and hands busy, without loading up on calories. You may notice the rest of the family reaching for the veggies first too, so keep plenty on hand.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF): This one is a bit counter to tip #1, but it works for many people. If you happen to indulge, just make up for it by eating less the next day. One day isn’t a big deal in the overall scheme of things; it’s just when one day of overeating is followed by another day, followed by another day…you get the picture. There’s actually a name for this pattern of “feasting” and “fasting”, and it’s called alternate day fasting (ADF), which is a well-researched form of intermittent fasting (IF) that can be an effective way to control calories and lose weight.
- Exercise: While exercise may not be the most effective tool for weight loss, if you want to counteract the negative effects of overindulging, intense pre-event exercise can offer attractive advantages. Exercise helps sensitize your muscles so they’re more likely to soak up carbs—rather than storing them as fat. What’s more, intense exercise can reduce appetite by decreasing your hunger hormones while increasing hormones that help you feel satisfied. And science has shown exercise to be very helpful for weight maintenance and counteract the effects of short-term overeating—such as indulging at a party.
- HIIT It: Speaking of exercise, when we think of the holidays, “busy” takes on a whole new meaning, and being able to get a quality workout in quickly becomes that much more appealing. Enter high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is not only time-efficient (takes less than 20 minutes), like weight training, HIIT has been shown to increase calorie burn for up to 38 hours after your workout.
- Enhance Energy: If you think you don’t have time to exercise, it might not be time that’s limiting you—rather, it could be energy. Ironically, exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, so you can make the most out of your time, becoming more effective and efficient at everything you do. Schedule time for yourself every day to exercise—even if it’s only for 15 to 30 minutes, as this investment will pay serious dividends.
- Watch What You Drink: In addition to an abundance of calorie-dense foods at holiday parties, you’re also likely to find a full menu of calorie-dense drinks—eggnog, mulled cider, hot chocolate, and hot buttered rum are just a few that come to mind. Alcohol is also known to lower inhibitions, so you’re more likely to indulge in other unhealthy treats after a drink or two. Fortunately, there are delicious lower calorie (and even calorie-free) options, such as hot peppermint tea, sparkling water with a dash of cranberry juice, or a spritzer. The best drink of all, however, is just plain water—always refreshing, hydrating, available, and calorie-free.
- From Lack to Abundance: It’s easy to overindulge during the holidays with the belief that “this favorite treat” or “that special event” only comes around once a year, so you just have to take advantage of it. Yet, if we’re honest, we realize we’re surrounded by an overwhelming variety of special foods all year long. By changing your frame of mind from lack to abundance, you might realize that indulging isn’t really that special. You can eat calorie-dense, rich, heavy foods any time. What is special, though, is caring for yourself and your body, so you enjoy greater, more balanced energy, less fat, and connections with people rather than food. Treats will always be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
- Enjoy a Cheat Day: On the other hand, you can enjoy all the foods available during this season—one day a week. In fact, as BioTrust Co-Founder Joel Marion explains, “Cheat days are an extremely effective strategy for shedding weight.” This goes back to the fat-burning hormone leptin. When dieting, levels of leptin naturally go down, and when this happens, metabolism slows and hunger hormones rage. Not a good situation. Fortunately, by intentionally overeating—by as much as 1,000 extra calories—once a week, you can help crank up metabolism and fat burning.
With the above 10 tips for how to avoid holiday weight gain, you’ll be ahead of the curve for a great start to the New Year. One last tip: Take the time NOW to set your New Year’s fitness goals. By getting started now, you’ll enjoy the quiet before the storm in your gym, build some healthy new habits, and take advantage of all the benefits mentioned above. Plus, when everyone else is scrambling in January to lose the weight they gained over the holidays, you’ll already be well on your way.
Doesn’t that sound like the best holiday gift you can give yourself?
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