Don’t let the holiday season get the best of you. The key to avoiding holiday weight gain is to plan ahead.
For many people, the holiday season is a time to abandon their usual eating and exercise habits and indulge. Then, they deal with the consequences of the inevitable weight gain in January. And even though the actual holidays are only a handful of days, we’ve come to think of this time as a ‘season’ of eating (and overeating).
Although typical holiday weight gain isn’t all that much (studies indicate it averages only about a pound or two), most people don’t lose all their holiday weight in the first months of the new year – some of the weight hangs on until the following summer or beyond1 – which can contribute to slow, gradual gains over time.
So this year, why not try a new plan? Rather than tackling your holiday weight gain in January, why not make a plan to prevent yourself from gaining weight in the first place? Here are some tips to help you put your plan into action.
Plan to eat regularly. Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals, rather than skipping meals to ‘save up’ for an event. When you skip meals, you get overly hungry, which often makes it harder to make better choices when you finally do get a chance to eat.
Plan for a balanced breakfast. A healthy, balanced breakfast can help set the tone for the rest of the day. And this is likely to be the one meal over which you have the most control and can make healthy choices. So choose a balanced, protein-rich breakfast – studies show it may help control cravings for high-fat, high-sugar snacks later in the day.2
Plan your activity. It’s easy to let your exercise routine fall by the wayside during this busy time of the year. But try not to let that happen. Schedule time to stay active, just as you do the rest of the year. Keeping up with your usual exercise routine will help keep you focused on healthier habits overall, including your eating habits, and it can help reduce stress during this busy time of the year.
Plan to weigh yourself regularly. Even though your weight naturally fluctuates from day to day, frequent weighing can be a helpful self-monitoring tool and may help you stay on track. It’s better to keep tabs on your weight throughout the season, rather than waiting until January to see how much damage has been done.
Plan your meals at home and when you’re out. As simple as this sounds, it can be hard to plan ahead for meals when there are a lot of social events that revolve around food. Keep your general eating pattern in mind, and do your best to stick with that pattern most days. Holiday buffets are popular, but they present a huge opportunity for overeating. One trick is to think of the buffet as a menu – then choose the items that you want. Just as you don’t order ‘one of everything’ from the menu in a restaurant, you don’t need to sample everything on the buffet table, either.
Plan your liquid calories. Holiday events frequently involve alcoholic beverages, and those calories can add up quickly. Plus alcohol tends to stimulate appetite and impair your self-control. A good strategy is to alternate alcoholic beverages with no-calorie drinks. A glass of mineral water with a twist looks and feels festive, but it’s calorie free and will also help you stay hydrated.
Plan your New Year’s Eve outfit NOW. Buy (or select) your New Year’s outfit early in the holiday season. Try it on, take a selfie, and keep it where you can see it. Thinking about how great you’ll look on that special night can keep you motivated during the hectic weeks leading up to it.
Keep in mind that one rich meal – or even an entire day of overeating – isn’t the end of the world. It’s the healthy habits that you practice in your daily life all year long that really matter. As you head towards the new year, make a plan to simply take good care of yourself. It’s one of the best holiday gifts you can give to yourself, and one that truly keeps on giving.
1 Leidy et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2013; 97:677.
2 Helander EE et al. N Engl J Med 2016; 375:1200.