How to Maintain Your Weight Over the Holidays
Written by Holly Norton
October 22nd, 2019
APD Dietitian, Director of Nutrition Biolayne
B.S. Food Science & Nutrition, M.s Dietetics
1. Be active with family and friends
It can be easy to fall into ‘holiday mode’, and before you know it, you’ve been cooped up indoors sitting on the couch watching the tv screen. If this is not your normal behaviour, all this inactivity can result in weight gain, so instead of staying sedentary and stuck indoors, still plan to have some quality time with your family over the holidays but to so by getting outdoors. Plan a picnic and a short hike, take a walk around the neighborhood to get the focus away from food, participate in local community holiday events, attend the local markets or take a shopping day. There are lots of things you can do that will keep you active without sacrificing time with your family. If going to the gym is a normal part of your daily routine, you may have to make some sacrifices, but just because its the holidays, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up altogether. If you are travelling over the holiday, why not find the closest local gym and plan to get your workouts done while your family are busy with other things? I like to get up nice and early before anyone is awake to train. That way my workout is done for the day, and now I can relax and enjoy the day with my loved ones.
2. Snack wisely
During the holiday season, calorie dense snacks like cookies and other treats tend to be available for you to take as you please. When treats are easy to access, you’re more likely to snack unnecessarily. This problem can be solved by keeping treats out of sight. However, this strategy is more difficult if you are staying with family, or in situations where they are available in the workplace.
In this case, try to be mindful of your snacking habits. If you find yourself munching just because there’s food around, and not because you’re hungry, tell yourself no, remind yourself of your goals as well as the other main meal you are likely to enjoy more.
3. Practice mindful eating
People are often in a rush during the holiday season, which frequently leads to multitasking during meals. Studies show that those who eat while distracted are more likely to overeat. This is because they’re unable to pay attention to their body’s fullness signals. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly, as this will allow you to better recognize your body’s fullness signals and consume fewer calories
4. Get plenty of sleep
Studies show that those who have poor sleep are often hungrier, tend to eat more calories and exercise less. There is also research that links poor sleep to reduced metabolic rate due to its effect on our circadian rhythm. While it is tempting to stay up late and be active outside your normal bedtime routine, remember the importance of sleep, and how its lack thereof, can sabotage your weight loss efforts. Life is all about balance, so if you have a couple of late nights in a row during the holidays, try to make the following nights sleep your number 1 priority. You’ll be less likely to overeat the next day due to disrupted hunger signals, you’ll also feel better and have more energy too!
5. Control your stress levels
Stress during the holidays can be a disaster, as we know that high levels of stress can increase our cravings for high calorie foods, and we all know these are in no short supply during the holiday season. Another reason why we encourage you to stay active during the holidays is because exercise increases the release of hormones known to bring about positive emotions. So get active, and try to minimize your stress. Remember your friends and family will still love you regardless of how good or bad the turkey turns out! Try to relax and enjoy yourself and focus on the memories you create.
6. Keep meals balanced with protein
Holiday foods are typically packed with carbs and fats and these types of foods typically offer very little satiety. Try to include a protein containing food with each meal, I recommend 25g per serving. Note individuals with a larger lean body mass may need to consume more, i.e. up to 50g per serve to achieve their daily protein needs Protein is not only the most important macronutrient for building lean body mass, it will also help promote feelings of fullness and help curtail your calorie intakes. Some good sources of protein include lean red meat, grilled poultry and fish, egg whites, and fat free dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Some protein containing plant foods include, tofu, tempeh, lentils beans and quinoa.
7. Focus on fiber
Fiber is another important nutrient that also induces feeling of fullness. Studies show that increased dietary fiber can help to reduce total calorie intakes, which may help prevent weight gain over the holidays. Fiber has a myriad of health other health benefits in addition to helping with weight maintenance, so make sure you try to include a fiber source with every meal. Foods high in fiber include vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, breads and cereals, specifically grains with the skins still in tact, as well as nuts and seeds.
My favorite fiber sources are stir-fry or roasted and salted vegetables such as peppers, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, bok choy and kale. My favorite salad ingredients include freshly chopped collard greens, kale, baby spinach and iceberg lettuce with cucumber, diced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, sweet corn kernels, banana peppers, jalapeno, olives, chickpeas, and fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro and mint. Team these with a nice low calorie salad dressing and a protein source and it’s amazing how good a salad can be.
8. Cut back on taste-testing
If you are anything like me, there is a lot of cooking taking place around holiday time. Knowing when to draw the line on your taste testing is crucial. Surprisingly, all this snacking, licks of the spoon and bites of holiday dishes can quickly add up when it comes to calories, and this may lead to unexpected weight gain. Avoid baking when you are hungry, as it’s much easier to go overboard on taste-testing when your stomach is growling. It may also be useful to tell yourself outloud ‘No, I will not lick the spoon’. Save the tasting for the finished product!
9. Limit your dessert intake
Dessert is everywhere during the holiday season. This often leads to excessive calorie consumption from highly palatable foods. If you have a set calorie budget for your holiday occasion, either bake your own lower calorie version, or focus on your favorite dessert, and do away with the rest. Another useful tip is to eat slowly and really savor the flavour. This can help you feel more satisfied and less likely to over eat.
10. Plan ahead
Planning ahead will go a long way when it comes to holiday eating and maintaining your weight. If you know there are going to be a plethora of foods available, you probably need to decide what foods you would like most, as it’s unlikely you will be able to fit them all without making some adjustments to your daily macro budgets.
Start by setting yourself a calorie target for the known event(s), and stick to it. If you know your weekly calorie budget, plan out which high days you would like to take, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, or an important work function, set yourself a realistic target you think you can stick to so you don’t feel like you are completely missing out, and make up for these high days by taking 1 or 2 lower days earlier in the week. When it comes to maintaining your weight, it all comes down to energy balance, so if you plan ahead, you might just be able to finagle enough calories to fit that slice of your mother inlaws amazing pumpkin pie, as well a glass or two of alcohol.
11. Use a smaller plate
Research shows that when we eat from a larger plate, we tend to eat more calories.
Try using a smaller appetizer plate to help control your portion size. Perception is a powerful tool. Use this to your advantage over the holiday period.
12. Modify your recipes. Bring a healthy dish to share
High-calorie energy dense food are a primary cause of weight gain during the holidays. However, you can easily lower the calorie content of the foods you eat by switching over to a homemade recipe instead. Processed foods often contain double the amount of calories from fats and sugar than the homemade equivalent, and this because the food manufactures want them to not only taste good, but also to help extend the products shelf life. Take control over what you consume by bringing along your own healthy version of a dish to share. This way, you can guarantee you’ll have something to eat that aligns with your macro targets and weight goals over the holidays.
Here are some quick ideas:
Substitute butter with the 75% reduced fat version.
Replace real sugar with zero calorie powdered sweetener (stevia, sucralose or splenda etc.)
Substitute heavy cream and full fat dairy with low-fat or skim varieties.
Flavor dishes with herbs and spices instead of butter and oil.
Try baking, steaming, or grilling instead of frying in copious amounts of oil.
Replace full fat dairy products (i.e.cream cheese, dressings, sour cream, and mayo) with their fat free or reduced calorie versions.
Use club soda or sparkling water in place of regular soda.
Avoid drinking juice or adding juice to alcoholic beverages
Flavor drinks with freshly squeezed lemon or lime, or use a diet flavoring i.e.crystal light or diet cordial
Cinnamon can also add flavor to holiday-themed beverages.
13. Weigh yourself regularly
It can be useful to weigh yourself regularly throughout the holidays as it can remind you of your weight goals and allow you to take action before significant weight gain sets in. Studies suggest that people who weigh themselves regularly maintain or lose weight better than those who don’t weigh themselves.
I recommend weighing in at least 3 times per week. If taking your weight gives you anxiety or worry, have someone else make a note of the weight for you while still staying accountable.
14. Skip seconds
Holiday meals are sometimes served buffet-style, with several options to choose from in unlimited amounts. This leads people to serve themselves a second helping. The calories from multiple helpings can quickly add up and lead to significant weight gain, so set some limits and allow just one plate. If you track macros, you should have planned ahead and set yourself a target, so try to stick to the plan for a successful holiday period.
15. Know when to draw the line
During the holiday season, many people have an “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality, and this mindset can end up leading people down a terrible pathway of poor decision making surrounding their nutrition. This often carries over well after the holiday period and into the new year. Studies show that the period spanning from October through to January is where majority of weight gain takes place, and we continue to gain more weight with each and every year that passes.
If you’re serious about maintaining your weight over the holidays, it may be helpful to find a friend who has similar weight goals as you, who also wishes to maintain their body weight during the holiday period. Knowing you also have a friend along for the journey can me the holiday period far more manageable, and this way you can keep each other motivated and accountable for your actions over the holidays.
With this being said, know when to draw the line, set limits for yourself, and stick to your goals regarding your food intakes. It’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that don’t align with your goals. And most of all, enjoy yourself!