One of the elements that people look forward to most around the holidays can also present one of the biggest challenges: food.
Wendi Murray, leader and ambassador for Weight Watchers, said it’s important to remember that a holiday is one day, not a whole week or month, which is sometimes easy to forget with the barrage of baked goods that often show up at the office or in the classroom this time of year.
“I think (the holidays are a hard time) for me and most people,” said Murray, who has sustained a 128-pound weight loss for 2 ½ years. “It’s business as normal but it’s just foods that we’re not around all year long.”
A study from the National Institute of Health showed that people tend to gain about one pound around the holidays, which doesn’t sound like much compared to the 5- or 10-pound weight gain we sometimes hear about. The problem is that each pound tends to build upon itself over the years, leading to an increased risk of obesity and other health issues.
While it’s tempting to just throw healthy-eating rules out the window and vow to shake the weight in the new year, experts don’t recommend that approach.
Continuing good habits
Dr. Alicia Bryan, wellness coordinator at Columbus State University, said that if someone has been eating well and working hard all year, letting themselves go at the end of the year will cause their stomach to stretch, making it harder to lose the weight again after the holidays.
“You’ve really got to have some discipline, find something to keep your focus during the holidays,” she said. “Whatever kind of consistency they can find, that would be the most important goal.”
That includes eating breakfast in the morning and maintaining your fitness schedule.
Bryan recommends working out as usual on the holiday and Murray even suggested doing a little extra exercise up to two days before, especially if you know you’re going to indulge in an extra dessert.
And instead of ruling out your favorite calorie-laden holiday dishes, just take a smaller serving.
“If you’re using a smaller plate it’s going to naturally shrink your portions,” said Murray.
Bryan also advocated small portions with the option of going back for seconds in lieu of over-filling one plate and feeling pressured to overeat.
“Usually with smaller portions and the conversation, they’re getting full before they know it,” she said.
Substituting light or lower fat ingredients in family favorite recipes is another way to reduce the impact of holiday eating. Bryan said applesauce is a good substitute for butter and Murray suggested Greek yogurt as a replacement for sour cream.
Intermittent exercise throughout the day can also be a good way to prevent (or counteract) overeating and incorporate fitness. Bryan suggests going for a 10-minute walk with a family member or playing outside with the kids.
Video gaming systems with fitness components can also be a fun way to spend time with family while burning some calories.
Leftovers can also pose a problem for hosts because they’re often left with more food than they care to keep.
Murray suggested buying holiday-themed food storage containers and encouraging guests to fill them up as they’re getting ready to leave.
“This way you keep what you want to keep, what you can manage or what’s okay with your waistline, you give the rest and they’ve got a cute little container,” she said.
The bottom line is, having a plan -- and sticking to it -- is crucial in avoiding any post-holiday food guilt.
“Have a game plan, have someone who can really hold you accountable,” said Bryan. “You may not like it, but at least you know they care. It all helps in the end and you’ll be thankful for it.”