During the roughly six-week winter holiday season, which begins right about now, the average American gains from 1 to 7 pounds, depending on which source you believe.
But the really bad news? Most of us never get around to losing that extra holiday weight, according to a widely cited study published in the respected The New England Journal of Medicine. So, even if you gain on the low end of that spread, you could easily be carting around five or ten extra unwanted pounds in just a few years.
The trick, obviously, is keeping the pounds off in the first place. Easier said than done. And most “tips” about avoiding holiday weight gain are, frankly, sort of hard to follow. Who really wants to just eat carrot sticks instead of Christmas cookies at the office Christmas party? And that often-repeated tip about eating a full meal before heading to a holiday gathering – well, won’t most people just end up eating twice as much?
Instead, here are a few simpler ideas for minimizing your holiday weight gain:
Don’t tempt yourself at home. Since the office and every holiday gathering will be well-stocked with sweets and snacks, cut back in the environment you can control – your house. For instance, stop buying chips, and skip the chocolate-chip cookie you often enjoy after dinner. If you receive gifts of nuts or candy, consider taking them to work to spread the enjoyment – and the potential weight gain – among your colleagues. And if you are baking treats for a party or friends, don’t make extras; try a cookie or two just to make sure they’re good enough to give away, but then package up the whole batch and get them out of your house.
Indulge in one or two treats per party – not the whole buffet. When you arrive at a holiday party, size up the offerings and eat only your favorites. Station yourself in a room far from the buffet table if you are easily tempted or prone to mindless eating while chatting.
Limit the alcohol. Especially if you don’t drink that often, a few alcoholic drinks can quickly add up to a bunch of empty, unexpected calories, and may also make you more apt to pig out at the buffet later. So go ahead and have that glass of champagne – one. Then switch to sparkling water with a slice of citrus.
Eat lightly the day of a big party, but don’t skip meals. If you know you’re going to be over-indulging in the evening, eat about one-third less than you might normally eat at breakfast and lunch, so you “save” some calories. If you skip meals and starve all day, you’re that much more likely to overeat as soon as you see the cocktail wienies. Along the same line, it’s often recommended to eat a healthy, protein-heavy snack right before heading to a party – so that you’re not as hungry. However, if you know that won’t stop you from eating just as much once you arrive at the party, skip the snack and save those calories.
Make your own party treats healthy: If you’re bringing goodies to a potluck, take something healthy, so you know there will be at least one lower-calorie offering to fill up on. Magazines like Cooking Light are filled with delicious, but lighter, holiday ideas this time of year.
Moderation in all things, even moderation: Choose one or two events – maybe Thanksgiving dinner and your neighborhood potluck – where you eat whatever you want, guilt-free. It will make it easier to limit your eating the rest of the season. The rest of the time, strive for moderation. If you do overeat at a party, don’t feel guilty or, worse, let it spiral into weeks of over-indulging. Shake it off, spend an extra 30 minutes at the gym, eat a salad for lunch, and then go about your holidays – hopefully, without any extra pounds in tow.