Do you realize the typical American gains one to five pounds over the holiday season? While this is not an issue for active people who lose this weight fairly easily once all the festivities subside, many individuals only end up losing a fraction of the extra weight—or even none at all! In fact, the average yearly weight gain of one to two pounds that occurs throughout adulthood may largely be due to holiday eating.
As a food lover and a chef, I am the last person to discourage eating good food with friends and family. On the other hand, the statistics on holiday weight gain are quite alarming, especially considering that many of the debilitating chronic diseases today are a direct result of being overweight or obese. The question then becomes: How can we still enjoy the holiday season without packing on the pounds? The following are just a few thoughts and suggestions.
Try new food traditions. Just because you’ve been serving that green bean casserole or pecan pie for decades doesn’t mean you can’t make new lighter menu substitutions. Adding a fresh vegetable dish or colorful salad to the menu can really liven up your table. You will be surprised by how much your guests really appreciate the lighter offerings.
Take a little time to enjoy each bite. Many people think that digestion starts in the stomach. Experts now know that proper digestion first begins in the brain and then the mouth. Thinking about your food allows the body to release important digestive enzymes, and thoroughly chewing your food allows the stomach and small intestine to more efficiently extract nutrients. Also, properly chewing your food takes time—so it helps to prevent overeating. Portion control is essential for preventing holiday weight gain, and this is just one effective strategy to help you eat just the right amount of your favorite holiday foods.
Fill your plate with protein and vegetables. High protein foods like turkey, ham or prime rib increase feelings of fullness and satiety. The same applies to high-fiber vegetables. High-carbohydrate foods, on the other hand (think dinner rolls, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie) lead to cravings for more high-carbohydrate foods and sweets, which can definitely lead to extra pounds.
Don’t wait until New Years to join a gym. Many of your holiday eating woes can be eliminated by clocking in a few extra sessions at the gym. But too many people eat whatever they want for several months prior to the holidays, thinking they will work off the pounds starting January 1. As many of us know too well, it is much harder to lose weight than is it to prevent weight gain in the first place. Get a good workout in the morning of a planned big meal or take a walk with friends and family afterwards. Any way you can, increase physical activity to compensate for the extra calories you ingest.
Don’t let the holidays drag on for weeks. Some leftovers are a good thing. Too many leftovers can wreak havoc on the waistline. Rather than letting those goodies linger in the fridge, transfer them to the freezer for future use. Thawing out and heating food takes a bit of time and effort and just might prevent you from dipping into the leftover stuffing every time you pass by the kitchen! Enjoy the holiday to the fullest extent the day of, and then do your best to resume your healthy habits the following day.
Sleep, hydrate and breathe. Staying healthy and preventing weight gain is not just about the food you eat. There are other lifestyle factors that play a role and deserve some attention. Sleeping at least eight hours each night during the holiday season can lower stress hormones that contribute to weight gain. Staying hydrated by drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day helps the body function better overall and can also prevent over-eating. The holiday season is full of fun, but can also be stressful. Stress for many people equals weight gain, so it is important to do whatever you can to keep stress levels in check.
This list is just the beginning. There are many more easy ways to stay healthy during the holidays, so do what works best for you. Enjoy the time with your family and friends and know that you do not have to give up all of your favorite foods. If you want to take a deeper dive, you can do so here. Simply make a few modifications to prevent that holiday weight gain now and for good. With these practical tips you will love the way you feel!