Ahhhh, the holidays. The season is upon us, with all the good things it entails. The sights, the smells, the warm wishes, the time spent with family and friends. And of course, the food. No other season is as potentially detrimental to our health than the final months of the year. It starts with a giant feast at Thanksgiving. (Wait, I think that now it technically starts at Halloween, a holiday centered on a candy grab.) And the season of excess continues non-stop right into the first of the next year.
You may have heard dire statements claiming that the average person gains five to ten pounds or more in the holiday season. Scientifically, there is little data to support that, but it’s true that most people do see the scale nudge upward during that time of year. One study found that weight increased by about .8 pounds in the holiday season, or about one pound in total between September and January. Study participants that were already overweight or obese were likely to gain more, and all were unlikely to shed any gains in the following year. Even though it’s not much, holiday weight likes to stick around. Over time, the cumulative effects of annual gains during the holiday season can contribute to a significant weight increase.
So let this be the year that you “just say no.” A conscious decision, supported by small but consistent efforts, can produce results that you’ll appreciate at the end of the season. Perhaps you’ll even lose a little bit of weight instead of seeing a gain. Come the New Year, you’ll have a head start on good habits, and can enjoy the results instead of making resolutions. Here are some strategies.
Water is crucial for your body. And when you’re eating or drinking in excess during the holidays, water is even more important for balancing the effects. Yet, hydration habits are easy to overlook during the busy holiday season. In the colder weather, you’re less likely to experience the thirst signals that prompt you to drink. So choose to drink more water during the holidays. When you’re out celebrating, consume a glass of plain water before and after every alcoholic drink. Make drinking water a treat by adding a slice of citrus fruit, some cranberries, or pomegranate seeds. Or splurge on a beautiful bottle of fancy bottled water, pour it in a festive glass, and toast the holidays with H2O.
Have a Plan
You’re in control of your consumption during the holidays. The season is jam-packed with opportunities to indulge, but you have the power to maintain moderation. You can still enjoy the tastes of the season without overdoing it, by implementing a plan for monitoring your caloric intake, and adjusting it before it escalates into excess and results in weight gain.
Consider keeping a food log. It’s easy to do with a handy phone app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! Keeping track of your food intake allows you to identify unhealthy patterns and modify bad habits. With heightened awareness, you are better equipped to budget your calories to accommodate the special treats of the season.
When the opportunity arises to provide a dish for a holiday event, make it a healthy option. How about a creamy Greek yogurt dip with veggie dippers? Or savory Tuscan Kale and White Bean Bruschetta made with a whole grain baguette? This Spinach Pear Pomegranate Salad is loaded with healthy ingredients but is sophisticated enough to star in the spotlight on a holiday buffet. For dessert, try a Skinny Frozen Chocolate S’Mores Pie. These Chocolate Dipped Mocha Coconut Cookies are only 50 calories each.
Hold Out for the Good Stuff
There’s no need to deny yourself during the holidays. It will only make you feel deprived and frustrated. But be finicky about your choices and careful about portions. Ask yourself: Is this truly a treat or just junk? Prioritize the good stuff, those favorite treats that are only available during this time of year. Be choosy, forgoing the “everyday” options that won’t be satisfying. Leave the mediocre items on the plate, and focus your fork on the foods that you know will be worth the calories. Packaged cookies? No, thanks. Homemade cookies? Just one, thanks.
When you’ve made your choice, savor it intentionally. Enjoy every delectable bite. Studies have shown that eating consciously with an attitude of indulgence may signal your hormones to stop eating sooner, and feel satisfied longer, so that you eat less overall.
If you overdo it, acknowledge the excess and make a better choice next time. Burn some extra energy by going for a walk or spending a few extra minutes on cardio conditioning. Make healthier choices in between holiday events, by forgoing empty calories in favor of nutrient dense whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and low fat dairy products.
Address the Stress
Along with all the joy, an unwelcome guest often makes an appearance during the holiday season: stress. Financial shortfalls, long to-do lists, crowded conditions, family relations, overcommitments and the pressure to make everything perfect can create a perfect storm of strain and anxiety. It’s important to address the stress before it takes a toll on your health.
Take time to breathe, let nonessentials flow away, and give yourself a chance to rest when you need it. Yoga, gentle stretching, meditation or mindful breathing are wonderful stress relievers that benefit your body and your spirit. Find joy in the small moments; sit and watch the fire crackle, the lights twinkle, or listen to music. Call and catch up with old friends, spend some time with the neighbors; let the dishes sit unwashed while you delight in the kids or grandkids.
‘Tis the Season of Giving
In many ways, the holiday season is all about giving, whether giving thanks, giving back, or giving gifts. So give yourself the gift of health this year. Train a little harder, walk a little further. Focus on friends and family, not food. Make it a priority to invest in your own well-being so that you’re better equipped to give of yourself during the season.