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How to maintain (or even lose) weight during celebration season
The holidays can be full of unhealthy choices. Here’s how to take a balanced approach to what you eat and drink.
Holiday cookies. Pumpkin pie. Mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s easy to forget your healthy habits during the holidays. Maybe you overeat at meals, or find yourself nibbling on more sugary sweets than normal. You may even worry that you’ll gain a few pounds.
But guess what? You can maintain your current weight (or even lose weight) during celebration season. It just requires a little planning and awareness on your part. Try these strategies for healthy eating over the next few months.
Embrace your weight
Let’s say you’re concerned about gaining weight in December. The best way to get in front of that is to have a plan in place. First, the easy part. Weigh yourself. This serves as your benchmark. Now that you have that number, ask yourself: Do you want it to be the same or less by the new year? Keep the scale handy, and try to weigh yourself each morning, recommends Stephen B. Johnston, MD. He’s a cardiologist at USMD, part of Optum, in Fort Worth, Texas. “In the morning, if I’m up a few pounds, I know how [I would] approach that day,” he says. That might mean skipping the extra helping of candied yams or asking for a thinner slice of pie.
It’ll be different for everyone, so make a plan that fits your lifestyle. Try using a smartphone app or a diary to keep track of what you’re eating. That may help you make informed decisions about what to eat and drink (or not) throughout the holiday season. It may also motivate you to stay active.
Focus on healthy choices
Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about depriving yourself. It’s about making good food choices.
So, at your next holiday event, don’t fret over what you can’t eat. Focus on what you can. At the table, zero in on healthy foods. Go for nutrient-dense choices such as lean protein (like chicken or shrimp), high-fiber foods and whole grains. Some good options:1,2,3
- Lentil or bean salad
- Quinoa salad
- Chicken breast
- Shrimp or fish
- Cut-up veggies
- Salad greens
- Whole wheat crackers
These types of food can help you feel full and satisfied.4 And a full stomach means you’ll be less likely to overdo it on heavy appetizers or sugary sweets.
Watch the alcohol
Drinking in moderation, such as having a glass of wine or beer at a holiday dinner, can be fine for most healthy people. But remember that alcohol calories can add up quickly.6 And certain some mixed drinks (pina coladas, mai tais) can be surprisingly high in sugar and calories.
Feel free to go to that fancy cocktail party. Dress up and enjoy yourself. But if you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation and then balance it out by choosing a few nights where you don’t drink any alcohol, suggests Dr. Johnston. “Daily alcohol use is something you have to be aware of. Those are empty calories.”
Empty calories means that a food or drink doesn’t offer any nutritional value. So be mindful of what you drink. Sip slowly. Instead of a glass of wine, consider switching to sparkling water. This can help keep your intake of empty calories to a minimum and your scale from inching up.
Don’t skip meals
You may think that passing up lunch during the day of a big evening party is the best way to keep your weight in check. You figure this way you’ll be able to eat more at night, right? But that plan can backfire.
In fact, skipping meals is one habit that can lead you to overeat, says the CDC.7 If you’re very hungry, you may just eat too much at night.
On the day of a party, plan to have your regular healthy meals and snacks. This will help keep your blood sugar steady.8 Then make good choices once you get to the celebration.
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Make snack time count
During the holidays, it’s hard to avoid that high-calorie food. But you can keep those moments isolated to seasonal parties, says Dr. Johnston.
When you need something to tide you over at work or home, choose whole, nutrient-rich foods. Examples include:9
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese
We don’t have to tell you that physical activity can help you maintain your weight.10 But holidays can involve lots of sitting around the table with your family. Or hanging out on the couch watching movies or sports. Try moving more and sitting less. Research shows that not getting enough exercise has been linked to heart disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.11
- Do yoga stretches while you watch TV.
- Get out on the dance floor. Dancing is a great (and fun) form of exercise.
- Shopping? Park at the far end of the mall parking lot to get in extra steps.
- Squeeze in some squats and wall push-ups in the kitchen while your coffee brews.
- Take the stairs instead of an elevator to get to that rooftop holiday party.
Be kind to yourself
Give yourself a break and enjoy the holiday season. Sure, you can put some limits on what you’re eating and drinking. But start small. Work your way down from two cookies for dessert to one, for example. That goal is much easier to achieve than not having any cookies at all.
Being reasonable about what you can and can’t eat and drink is the smart way to approach the holidays, says Dr. Johnston. “I tell my patients that I try to be ‘good’ 90% of the time.” And that other 10%? Well, that’s one of the best holiday gifts.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. My Plate: Grains. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. My Plate: Protein Foods. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. My Plate: Vegetables. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. What is a healthy diet? Published April 14, 2023. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Calorie count – Alcoholic beverages. Last reviewed June 2, 2022. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Use and Your Health. Last reviewed April 14, 2023. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Improving Your Eating Habits. Last reviewed June 3, 2022. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays. Last reviewed June 20, 2022. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Published December 2020. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. Published 2018. Accessed October 19, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Inactivity. Last reviewed September 8, 2022. Accessed October 19, 2023.
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