Holiday parties at work. Cookie exchanges with friends. Family coming for dinner. Gifts of fudge, cake pops and candy. Toasts and cocktails. Taste-testing while cooking.

It’s that time of year when sensational sweets and tempting treats surround you. So how can you possibly survive the holidays without gaining weight?

holiday table food buffet for christmas

How to avoid holiday weight gain

The holiday celebrations are wonderful occasions to spend time with our family and friends while enjoying delicious meals and snacks. However, these foods are usually not the healthiest and might cause us to indulge and gain those unwanted pounds. Fortunately, there are ways we can enjoy time with our loved ones while preventing weight gain.

Ryan Whitcomb, Registered Dietitian at Whitsons Culinary Group says, “With a little preparation and effort before the holidays hit, you’ll be able to get through December unscathed.”

1) Snack before

Before heading to a party or a big meal, eat a toasted whole-wheat bagel or a bowl of oatmeal, suggests Tom Weede, author of The Entrepreneur Diet: The On-the-Go Plan for Fitness, Weight Loss and Healthy Living. That way, you won’t show up hungry, and the whole grains are complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest, helping you feel fuller longer so you won’t be as likely to scarf down a plate of goodies as soon as you arrive.

2) Don’t skip meals to save calories

Skipping meals encourages overeating, and you’ll only be tempted to rebound later at the holiday buffet. Take control of portion sizes, and increase the number of smaller portions per day.

You can also build up a bank of extra calories for a special event by reducing your daily intake by about 100 calories (approximately one slice of bread) for a week. Similarly, you can balance the higher calorie meal with lower calorie choices before and after to keep your intake relatively consistent.

3) Avoid some of the appetizers

thanksgving dinner spreadHors d’oeuvres are tasty, but they are also an opportunity for mindless eating, so seek lower-calorie options at the holiday appetizer buffet. Veggies and salsa or a light dip, fruit kabobs, or shrimp and scallops with cocktail sauce are smart choices.

If a fruit salad or veggies with dip isn’t really your thing, gather all the appetizers you want to eat at the same time, so you can see how much you’re actually eating. Remember that many hors d’oeuvres have as many calories as an entrée.

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You can also bring your own low-calorie appetizer to guarantee you’ll have a healthy alternative.

4) Be social

Chatting with friends and family can help to minimize temptation by focusing your attention elsewhere. Also, when hosting a party, provide entertainment other than just food. Christmas carols, a classic movie or craft making give guests something to do besides eat.

“Choosing different ways to socialize can be a great strategy,” agrees Donna Mehrle, registered dietitian and extension associate in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri. “Playing a game of flag football or participating in a 5K race as a family, rather than having another big dinner or TV marathon, are enjoyable ways to incorporate physical activity on Thanksgiving Day.”

5) Don’t drink too many calories

Liquid calories count, so enjoy them in moderation. One five ounce glass of wine has about 100 calories, a 12 ounce regular beer contains 150 calories, and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits has 100 calories.

You will also want to avoid having too many special holiday coffee or tea drinks, says Tom Griesel, coauthor of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust. “They are usually full of sugar and fat and their calories add up quickly.”

6) Keep addictive foods out of your house

Replace the treats that make you can’t stay away from with low calorie alternatives, such as angel food cake with berries rather than a berry cheesecake.

>> 7 easy ways to eat fewer sweets & treats

It also might help to keep a diary of what you eat and drink, even if it’s just through the holiday season. The act of recording your intake will raise awareness and help identify any triggers for overconsumption.

7) Water it down

Drink a tall glass of ice water before and along with your holiday feast — this will help fill your stomach, and leave less room for eggnog and stuffing. You’ll even burn a few extra calories as your body warms the water temperature.

8) Beware the buffet

At an all-you-can-eat affair, fill up on veggies first, then other foods — then sit or stand a good distance from the table.

9) Not every food is a problem

Remember, not all traditional holiday foods are unhealthy, especially if you stay with reasonable portions. For example, yams are a great source of potassium and vitamin A, while turkey is a source of lean protein. It’s usually the “add-ons” that get you into trouble, like high fat gravy and butter.

The best tip we’ve found: Focus on celebrating with your seasonal favorites instead of your usual dishes — the holidays only come but once a year.

10) Start with small portions

Try a trick like using a smaller plate so you’ll start with smaller portions. Also, it takes your brain 20 minutes to get the message you’re full, so eat slowly. You can always go back for seconds if you’re still hungry.

11) Swap a few things out

Cherry Almond Cocktail made with cherry brandy amarettoMehrle suggests making simple swaps — such as whole-wheat bread rather than white, brown or wild rice instead of white, or a yogurt parfait instead of another piece of pie. Popcorn can take the place of salted nuts, and have salsa for a dip instead of a ranch or bean dip.

12) Eat enough to feel satisfied

Eat slowly, chewing thoroughly, and savoring every bite. Eat until you are 80% full — enough to feel satisfied, but have room for more. Then step away from the table. Listen to your body, and when it tells you it’s full, believe it. Remember, you don’t have to eat everything to enjoy yourself.

>> Why do we eat for pleasure when we’re not even hungry?

13) Resolve some stress

If you can, schedule a massage at least once during the holidays, says Weede. Chronic stress can cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can boost your appetite.

No time? Practice “belly breathing” a few minutes a day. Sitting in a comfortable chair, take a slow, deep breath through your nose, feeling as though you’re filling every part of your lungs. Pause, then let the air flow out slowly from your mouth or nose. Completely exhale, and then repeat five to 10 times.

14) Walk it off

Take a long walk after meals instead of a nap. Research indicates that physical activity after a big holiday meal may the lower levels of fat in the blood. Exercise also burns excess calories, lowers blood sugar and blood pressure and decreases stress. (Coincidentally, some people eat when they are stressed, so exercise helps to break this cycle.)

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“Wear an inexpensive pedometer to track your total daily steps, and set daily and weekly goals,” Griesel says. “Anything more than 6K daily steps and you’re a winner; 10K steps and you’re a star.”

15) Get creative with exercise

Maximize the little time you have for exercise with circuit workouts, which combines strength and cardiovascular training. Here’s how: Move from one exercise to the next with minimal rest between exercises (which keeps your heart rate up). Once through all the movements, cycle back through the circuit one or two more times.

Other tips: Recruit a workout partner, and plan ahead of time to exercise with a friend at set times each week during the holidays. If they’re counting on you to show up, you’ll be there.

If you’re out shopping, make the most of your time. Most malls have massive parking lots and stores as far as the eye can see. Take advantage of the size and park on the opposite side from where you intend to shop — you could get in 20 minutes of walking this way.

16) Get enough shuteye

Sleep deprivation can result in lower levels of the hormone leptin, which helps regulate hunger. This may lead your brain to think the body hasn’t taken in enough food, setting you up to overeat.

>> Can one simple strategy help you say no to temptation?

17) Enjoy yourself

Remember to focus on the big picture — a few holiday indulgences aren’t going to burst your belt. It’s the overall calories you eat, and the overall calories you burn during the whole holiday period that count. As Griesel says, “Average weekly caloric intake matters most. Stay strict on non-party days, eating lower-calorie, high-nutrient foods like fruits, leafy greens, non-starchy veggies, legumes, fish and lean cuts of meat.”

It might be best to decide that no foods are off limits, but remember to watch your portion sizes. With this time of year notorious for decadent foods, it may be more realistic if you aim to avoid gaining weight as opposed to trying to lose weight.

“You really don’t have to deprive yourself during this season,” Weede says. “Just make some good choices, stick to them, and you’ll start the New Year ahead of the game.”


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