The holidays are packed with celebrations, but for many of us, the colder weather discourages outdoor workout routines, our stress levels are high and we may be getting less sleep than usual. Combined, all of this can lead to weight gain over the holiday season.
In a 2000 study of 195 adults, 14% gained over 5 pounds in the 6-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
While most participants gained 1 pound or less during the study - which does not seem like much - this weight is usually never lost and accumulates year after year.
The researchers found that 51% of most people's weight gain over a 12-month period occurred during the holiday season.
Indulge in your favorites, skip the rest
If one of your favorite parts of the holiday season is your grandmother's famous sugar cookies, you need not put them off limits. Allow yourself to have a cookie, enjoy it and move on. But do not feel bad about skipping Aunt Betty's fruitcake that you never really liked anyway.
When at a dinner party or buffet, survey the entire table before making a plate. Decide on one or two dishes that are worth indulging in, and eat in moderation. Fill the rest of your plate with vegetables, fruits or lean protein.
More quick tips to survive the holidays:
- When eating out at a restaurant, decide ahead of time whether you will treat yourself to an appetizer, an alcoholic beverage or dessert. Allow yourself to have one, but not all three.
- If your dinner party or reservation is later than you would normally eat dinner, make sure to have a small snack with protein and fiber before leaving the house so you are less likely to overindulge when you get there. An apple and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or a string cheese and a few whole grain crackers would be good choices. Never go to a party feeling hungry.
- Sip a glass of water in between every glass of wine, eggnog or other alcoholic beverage.
- If you are worried there will not be any healthy options available, make sure to bring your own healthy dish that you (and everyone else) will enjoy.
- Keep a food diary. If you have a smartphone, use an app like My Fitness Pal to stay on track of your intake. This will help you to stay realistic. Keep in mind the amount of exercise needed to burn off your indulgences. One 300-calorie cookie takes 60 minutes of walking for a 150-pound person to burn off.
Do not skip meals
If you think skipping breakfast or lunch will save you calories, think again. When you skip a meal, you are more likely to overeat twofold at your next meal.
It is especially important to not skip breakfast in preparation for a party or event, because if you do not eat within a few hours of waking, your metabolism fails to start and your body will hold on to and store fat for energy as a survival mechanism.
If your normal exercise routine involved outdoor activities that simply do not agree with the winter weather, now is the time to find a new one you enjoy indoors. Contact gyms in your area (or where you are traveling) and see if they offer a week-long free trial. Try new classes like cycling, hot yoga or aqua sculpt.
Keep trying until you find an instructor or class structure that you enjoy. Find a friend to play racquetball with or join an indoor basketball or volleyball league. Sign up for a spring 10K, triathlon or adventure race that requires you to train through the winter.
The key is to find an activity that you look forward to. If running on a treadmill is not enjoyable for you, skip it. Maybe you would enjoy a Zumba or hip-hop dance class instead.
Adjust your focus
Focus on maintaining your weight and not gaining during the holidays, instead of losing. Count it as a victory if you are still fitting into your favorite jeans by February.
Make new traditions
If most of your current traditions focus around food, make new ones. Round up the family and go sledding, ice skating or skiing. Take dance lessons or get crafty and make your own holiday decorations. Take old family recipes and revamp them to make them healthier.
Replace white flour with whole grain or replace oil and lard with applesauce and Greek yogurt. At gatherings, take advantage of seeing those you do not get to see often; talk more and eat less.
Recipes for a healthier treat to give Santa this year:
Cranberry-Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 34 cookies.
- 1 and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 2 and 1/2 tablespoons chopped almonds
- 3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate mini-chips
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons applesauce
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg white
- Cooking spray
- Combine flour, oats, baking powder, soda, salt, cranberries, almonds and chocolate chips in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine sugar and butter. Beat with a mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in honey, vanilla, egg and egg white.
- Add flour mixture to sugar mixture and beat at low speed until well blended. Cover and refrigerate batter several hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° F for 12 minutes.
Pumpkin Bread with Cinnamon Cream Cheese
- One 8 oz package reduced fat cream cheese
- 1/4 + 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 box 1-step angel food cake mix (I used Betty Crocker)
- 1 15 oz can pure pumpkin
- 3/4 cup water
- Pre-heat the oven to 325° F. Coat two 8.5-9 inch loaf pans with non-stick spray.
- In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon until smooth and soft.
- In a separate large bowl, beat the cake mix, pumpkin, water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon on medium speed until smooth.
- Layer each pan with 1/4 of the pumpkin mix, then add in small spoonfuls of cream cheese, evenly spaced. Repeat another layer of the pumpkin mix and cream cheese. Insert a butter knife into the mix and blend in figure 8 motions to mix cream cheese into pumpkin mixture.
- Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Tastes best when refrigerated for 1-2 hours after cooling.
Written by Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist