Practical Tips: Top 10 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

party-buffet-table-small-100x150Let’s be honest, nobody likes restricting themselves from eating delicious foods, particularly during the holidays.   Problem is, nobody likes the excess weight gain associated with the holidays either.  Even more alarming is the fact that overweight and obese individuals gain more weight over the holidays than do lean individuals.  If the laws of physics are correct, something has to give here.  Trick is to cut the excess calories we don’t even notice or enjoy.  Below are a few tips for keeping the belly happy during the holidays without feeling guilty and expanding your waistline after.

  1. Watch calorically-dense appetizers.  Limit creamy/cheesy dips, fried anything, frozen hors d’oeuvre, (eg, pigs in a blanket, mini quiches) pretzels and chips. Instead, go for nuts, salsa, shrimp cocktail, veggies, and fruit.  The more you eat of the good stuff, the less you will eat of the bad stuff.  It works.  Plus, there is usually so much good food floating around on the holidays, do you really want to waste the calories on chips?
  2. Load up on turkey and ham.  These are relatively lean meats that will deliver a lot turkey1of protein with very little fat and few calories.  Eat more of this and less sides such as potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.  Think about it, this is the most expensive component to a meal (when you order Chinese, notice they sometimes load it down with vegetables and skimp on the chicken, beef or shrimp?) and the best for you.  Added bonus- protein makes you feel fuller and fuller longer so load up on the lean protein and you will eat less of the much more waistline expanding bad stuff.
  3. Don’t unbutton your pants unless you are going to the bathroom or changing.  What we really mean here is don’t eat to the point that you are uncomfortably full.  Think about it- why should being uncomfortable be a part of holiday enjoyment?  For most of us living in the US, nobody is going to steal the food; it will be there all night so pace yourself.  You continue to get fuller after you stop eating.  So, if you stop eating when you are 3/4 full, you will be perfectly satisfied but if you stop eating when you are full, you will likely become uncomfortably full in a little while.
  4. Take smaller portions and go back if you are still hungry.  Studies show that we eat pretty much whatever is in front of us so loading up two heaping plates is going to result in tons more calories than eating more smaller portions.  We get full over time so, again, pace yourself.  Also, people tend not to go back for 4ths and 5ths and the belly is already plenty satisfied.  Using this technique, you can eat as much as you want (within reason of course) and still usually ingest fewer calories than you would if you loaded down two heaping plates.
  5. Watch salad dressings and sauces.  Unless you’re going to a health conscious household, these will typically be full fat and full calorie versions.  These are as bad or worse than the triple chocolate cake dessert.  No kidding.  Opt for fat free versions or extra virgin olive oil and vinegar instead.  The same is true for any mayonnaise or cream based sauces.  Mustard is actually a very healthy option and a very under appreciated condiment in our humble opinion.
  6. 116591-dmn-wine-glass-evans-2011-thumb-820x1024-116590Limit alcohol.  It’s the holidays, we’re off from work, a lot of us tend to have a few drinks.  Some times more, especially if you have to put up with the in-laws all night.  Just be aware that alcohol increases hunger and decreases dietary restraint so you’re more likely to pack in the calories and pack on the pounds the more you drink.  Try red wine instead of hard liquor or beer.  Also, be aware that alcohol itself contains a ton of calories (about 100 calories for a glass of wine, light beer or shot of alcohol) and this does not include mixers!
  7. Wait to eat desserts.  Give some time after dinner before diving into the desserts.  If you cram everything into your belly at once, you’re going to load down too many calories.  The body can only metabolize (burn) so many calories at one time and then the rest basically get stored as fat.  That is why eating more smaller meals is better.  Use this trick during the holidays and beyond!  Also, as mentioned earlier, fullness increases over time so, even though you may be tempted by the pecan pie right after dinner, you probably won’t want it as much 10 minutes later.
  8. Keep desserts to a reasonable level and avoid “a slice of everything.”  Yes, icecream-pie-su-1816277-lmost desserts are loaded down with fat, sugar and calories, and have little if any nutritional value.  That’s why they are desserts.  Even things that may seem benign like fruit tarts are often in the same category of butt bulgers.  Enjoy in moderation and avoid having a slice of several different things- the brain will allow us to force even more into an already full stomach when the flavors vary a lot.  Ever notice that you can be painfully full and then see the dessert tray and feel like you could maybe just try a slice of whatever?  You can eat more of different things- we call that sensory specific satiety.
  9. Limit soda and other caloric beverages.  Most people forget that caloric beverages can and will make you just as fat as food.  Even worse, unless it’s 100% fruit juice (which still has a lot of calories), it’s likely delivering zero nutritional value and won’t do much to reduce appetite.  So overloading on caloric drinks and food during the holidays is a double-whammy.  If you’re going to indulge, make it with delicious foods- you can have a glass of soda anytime.
  10. Be conscious of where you’re spending calories.  It’s a fact, unless you’re a marathon runner or Olympic athlete, you can only pour so many calories into your body until they show up where you don’t want them to.  No need to carry a note pad and estimate calories and do complex fractions.  Just use your brain- eat more healthy stuff than unhealthy stuff and be aware of hidden calories frequently found in the potatoes (butter, sour cream, oil), vegetables (oil) and sauces (saturated fat).  By all means, enjoy the food and eat some unhealthy stuff, just balance it out with healthy stuff!