It has been estimated that the average holiday weight gain, between Halloween and New Year’s day, is 7-10 pounds. That is about the size of a newborn on your frame! It’s much easier to head off the weight gain BEFORE it occurs rather than waiting until after to try to lose the weight. I have found that there are a few things common to many of us during this “comfort food” and “comfortable family” season. Let’s talk about how to head off this possible weight gain and make sure it’s kept to 1-2 lb. or NONE gained at all!
1. Don’t show up to party famished. You have probably heard this type of advice before, but it has helped many of my clients and myself nip the problem in the bud. Do not underestimate your body’s natural hunger cues, hormones, and self-survival mechanisms. If your body perceives extreme hunger, it will go into fat-storing mode. The hormonal fluctuations your body experiences from extreme hunger will also make self-control nearly impossible! When you are physically hungry, you need to eat. This is not a choice: it’s a necessity. Your body will override your good intentions and go right for the fatty appetizers or chips and dip the minute you walk in the door, despite your intentions of sticking to a strict food plan.
Just like any other day, have a small snack every 2-3 hours in between meals. If you are going to a dinner party, before you leave the house, have a snack, such as an apple and a small handful of almonds. The fiber, protein, and healthy fat will reduce cravings, curb hunger hormones, and take your body out of survival mode. One of the best snacks to enjoy pre-holiday function is a LiveRite whey protein shake. Studies have proven that whey decreases appetite and reward-based eating for hours after consuming it. It helps through cell signaling functions to cut cravings.
By eating a small snack before a party, you will kick your metabolism will kick into high gear so that, once at the event, you will not store every bite you eat as body fat.
2. Don’t completely deny yourself your holiday favorites. Have 1 or 2 bites of the things you really love, and enjoy and savor them without guilt. Setting yourself up for a stressful situation by prohibiting yourself from enjoying a bit of your favorite foods is a bad decision for most of us. I have found that when I allow myself a bit of my favorites, such as my grandmother’s stuffing and one of her stuffed mushrooms, I am totally satisfied to stop with a few bites. Fill up on the healthier choices such as turkey (minus the skin), veggies, and salad, and add just a drizzle of gravy without the guilt! A few bites of stuffing and mashed potatoes will not cause weight gain! A binge from too much self-deprivation and then subsequently “pigging out”, however, will. Lose the guilt and the perfectionist attitude. No one is perfect! Enjoy your time with your family and enjoy a bit of homemade cooking.
3. When dessert hits the table, pick the one that you really want, and enjoy a small piece. If you fight this traditional holiday ritual, it may backfire. I truly enjoy a bit of dessert after a holiday meal. Sometimes, I take 1/4 of a piece of 2 desserts and taste them both. It leaves me feeling satisfied and keeps the holiday spirit warm and festive. Food is not the enemy unless we make it so. Again, enjoy a bit and don’t stress or feel remorse about your choices. Stress is more likely to have unpleasant side-effects for your waistline than are two bites of pumpkin pie!
4. Ask the host if you can bring something. Make a healthy side dish or dessert, such as any one of the recipes you see on our Lucille Roberts blog. String beans with low-fat cream of mushroom soup and many others are classics that can be made less fatty with a little ingenuity. Fill up on these lower fat options and you will have less room for the higher calorie choices.
5. Leave a bit of food on your plate. Don’t clean your plate with each course. This may sound simple or even a bit wasteful, but leaving just one or two bites on your plate after you have sampled and enjoyed a bit will help you feel in control of what you put in your body. It will also prevent the need to go back for seconds.
6. Truly savor a few bites and take the time to enjoy the textures, tastes, and aroma of your holiday meal. This is often food lesson 101 in my weight loss coaching with clients. As serial dieters, many of the women I train or give nutritional counseling to have forgotten how to enjoy food and relax around it. They forget there are almost no inherently “bad” foods, only different food options and portion sizes. You can have a bit of diversity and still stay the course of weight loss success. The only foods I judge as inherently ‘bad” are those with very processed artificial ingredients that may harm your health. Certainly not a sliver of mom’s homemade pie! Research has proven that a “treat meal” about once per week increases anabolic (muscle toning) and metabolism-boosting hormones. Keep your extra “treat food” within reasonable amounts and never eat to the point of being “stuffed.” Stop when you feel slightly full. You will feel better at the event and the next day!
7. Exercise a bit more the days preceding and following an event; if possible, work out the morning of a dinner party. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular or aerobic activity, not only burns fat and calories, it releases peptide YY (PYY). PYY is unlike its cousin, neuropeptide Y (NPY), which causes hunger and cravings and is released during times of stress and food deprivation. NPY causes a decrease in appetite and food cravings. Although you might swear you’re famished after a solid sweat session, studies have found that, chemically, the reverse is true. However, if you don’t nourish your body post-work out, you WILL be famished. This can lead to the insatiable hunger and subsequent binge eating. After your workout, have a little protein and a carb, such as a yogurt and fruit or a LiveRite shake, and you won’t want to raid the refrigerator when you are preparing dinner.
8. If you are cooking, make a couple of healthful options as well as traditional favorites for the occasion. You may be surprised by how many of your guests appreciate the healthier choices. You can still enjoy a bit of the traditional favorites while you keep it light with other choices. In addition, have plenty of “to-go” containers on hand for others to take food home. Most guests will welcome leftovers to take home and will be very appreciative.
9. Make the most of leftovers by making healthy turkey sandwiches like my Turkey and Cranberry, Walnut sandwich. I also have found the freezer to be a lifesaver when it comes to portion control. I always put my favorite treats there in Tupperware! (In fact, you will never catch me without a bag of Dove dark squares for the occasional sweet indulgence. They are less than 50 calories each! Just one with a cup of tea is enough to curb a craving, and dark chocolate is considered a healthy fat with antioxidants, to boot!)
10. Most of all, remember that the holidays are a time for thanks, warmth, and celebration with the ones we love. As you embrace this time, do not dread gatherings because of a few tempting treats. Make sure to enjoy a little and feel no remorse about a couple extra bites of your all-time favorites. You may find this makes “family time” much more pleasurable and stress-free.