You can gain weight at any time of the year, but many studies show that the holiday season is the period most Americans gain weight. According to one study, on average, five pounds are gained over the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year.
So what’s one to do? Resisting all that food is nearly impossible and forgetting about the holidays in the first place is unforgivable. You may have gained a few pounds the last holiday season, but with these tips in mind, you’ll be ready to keep your weight down next season.
Monitor Your Food Intake Closely
There may be a feast spread out in front of you, but remember that it is you who puts that food into your mouth. So a simple solution is to be wary about your food intake. In a study that examined how self-monitoring related to weight control, participants who consistently monitored their food intake gained less than those who were less self-conscious. The question is, then: how to resist all that delicious food during the holiday season?
It’s all about self-control, not self-denial. Some suggest what is called the one-day method, where you allow yourself one serving of a ‘forbidden’ food of your choice each day during the holidays. If there are some days when the food isn’t that appealing, take advantage of these and skip treats for that day. The key is to avoid over-compensating the next day.
In one study, including 1,042 adults who weighed themselves for 12 months, they found that the group checking their weight was more likely to lose weight compared to the group that didn’t check. During the holidays, regularly weigh yourself, and you will be amazed at how much self-control you will gain. Others prefer looking at a full-length mirror daily. There’s nothing like seeing the effect of overeating to give you the determination to resist.
Focus on Foods That Minimize Fat Gain
What exactly does this mean? Should you look for all the fruits and vegetables on the table and only eat those? What’s so special about the holidays if that’s the case, right? To understand the concept of focusing on food that minimizes weight gain, there is a myth we all need to get out of our minds.
The myth is that, when you exceed your daily caloric intake, you automatically gain weight, no matter what kind of calories you consume. What this says is you can eat all the fruit and veggies you want. Still, if you exceed the recommended calorie intake, you will gain weight just as if you consumed the same amount of calories but with cakes and pastries.
Recent evidence shows that there is a difference between overeating protein, overeating fats, and overeating carbs. In short, the content of the food you eat matters. Seven studies compared how overeating different amounts of protein affected weight gain in adults. One study showed that eating 2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight resulted in less fat increase than eating 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram. But that doesn’t make sense, right?
Say you eat lots of protein during the holidays, which means less fat and carbs. Your friend, on the other hand, eats less protein and, therefore, more fat and carbs. You both had the same calorie intake but from different sources (yours more from protein and hers from fat and carbs), but your weight gain differs!
One study examined the impact on athletes who engaged in high-intensity training and increased their calories through protein intake. At the end of the study, all participants who raised their calorie intake with protein had no weight gain or increased fat mass.
So the lesson to take home for the holidays is this: if you focus on eating proteins, your weight gain will be minimal. Have your fill of turkey, roasts, and all the other meats during the holiday season. The more you focus on protein-rich foods, the more likely you are to feel satiated sooner and resist the temptation of carbs, sugars, and fats.
Plan Ahead For The Holiday Season
Now that we have crunched all the scientific backing on how to prevent fat gain during the holidays. Let’s talk about other practical strategies. As the saying goes, “the best appetizer is hunger,” so never, ever go to a party when you are hungry. You probably have done this before and found yourself gorging on all the unhealthy stuff, eating more than you should, and feeling guilty afterward. Don’t repeat that cycle!
Science agrees that hunger is one of the main reasons people fail at diets. Instead of skipping meals at home to ‘leave room’ for the good food at the party, try to eat healthy at home first and watch what happens. All of a sudden, the feast before you won’t seem that appealing, and you are more likely to exercise self-control because you are not hungry.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Along with all the food, the holiday season is also a time to hang out with friends and family and indulge in alcoholic beverages. If you are on a weight loss journey or want to keep weight off during the holidays, stay away from too much alcohol. Since this may seem challenging, here are a few reasons that should make it a little easier.
Let’s talk about alcohol and calories. Statistics state that an average wine drinker gains 2,000 calories from alcohol monthly. Add the months up. and you get 44,200 calories a year or about 221 doughnuts.
But you may argue that not all calories are equal, and you are right. However, it is not in the way you wish to be. The calories from alcohol are ’empty calories’ because they have low nutrients.
Aside from the fact that alcohol is calorie-dense, your body stops burning fats and carbs and focuses on drinking, which results in fat storage. If this reasoning is not enough, here are other factors to consider:
- Alcohol increases appetite: Researchers have studied the effect of alcohol and its connection with increased appetite. Researchers found that those who consumed higher alcohol content ate more than others. To make matters worse, fatty and salty foods were their choices.
- Alcohol promotes impulsive snacking: Researchers found that heavy drinkers are more likely to snack impulsively, especially after drinking sessions. Those who drink away from home tend to make lousy snack choices compared to those who drink at home. Another study showed that 71 percent of drinkers were also binge eaters.
- Alcohol alters fat distribution: The so-called ‘beer belly’ is real in both men and women. Drinking increases the amount of belly fat since this fat is deposited explicitly in the belly area.
So how do you apply all this information in terms of reducing holiday weight gain? If you have to drink, then try and keep it at home. If you must head out to a bar to have fun and perhaps celebrate the New Year, don’t overdrink! Know your limit and stick to it. Limiting alcohol intake is something you can do throughout the year.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is something you should start way before the holidays because it only works if you are in the habit of eating mindfully. Here’s the science behind the idea: the process of digestion is a slow one, and it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety. The problem we all have is that we eat too fast. By the time we decide to stop eating, we have eaten way too much and all that food goes right into stored fat.
Numerous studies have confirmed the effect of mindful eating to help treat eating disorders and help with weight loss. According to one randomized controlled study, 150 binge eaters were split into two groups. The first group received standard psychoeducational treatment, and the other group received mindfulness therapy. Those in the mindful eating group were better able to control their eating habits.
So mindful eating involves teaching yourself to eat in a slow, attentive manner. Here are a few tricks you can put into action at your next meal:
- Set a timer for 20 minutes and take that time to eat your meal.
- To help you slow down, try eating with your less dominant hand or use chopsticks.
- For the first five minutes, eat silently, thinking about all the effort it took to create that meal from the farmer to the grocery store to your kitchen.
- Make an effort to take small bites and chew well.
- Before you decide to grab a snack, take a deep breath, and ask yourself whether you are starving or perhaps just bored..
Keep Up with Your Workout Routine
You may enjoy time away from work, but never take time away from your exercise. According to research, women who worked out in the morning had a better response to tempting food compared to those who didn’t work out. Also, starting your day with a sweat session gears you up for more activity for the rest of the day.
If you plan to spend the holidays away from home, remember to pack all your workout stuff, from shoes, to jogging pants, and all your gadgets. You are more likely to stick to your workout routine if you already have everything you need. Why not take the time to bond with distant relatives over a morning walk? With no work to think about, your body will respond more readily to exercise.
If taking a walk or jogging is not an option because of the weather, find another fun way to burn calories. Put your favorite dance music on and get everyone up on their feet. Dancing is a great way to burn calories without looking like you are trying too hard.
Keep Temptations Out Of Sight
The idea “out of sight, out of mind” is backed up by research. One four week study involved the chocolate consumption of 40 secretaries. They placed chocolates on the desk or two meters away from the office. The bowls were also either transparent or opaque. The results showed that the proximity and visibility of the chocolate bowl directly influenced consumption.
The lesson: stay clear of the buffet table! What you can’t see won’t tempt you. Get away from the kitchen with all its tempting aromas, find a quiet spot, or play with the nephews or nieces – just keep food out of sight. This simple trick will not only help you eat less, but you will spend more time with friends and family, which is what the holidays are all about.
When you get into the habit of enjoying conversations, you will be too busy to think about that chocolate cake on the table. Diverting your attention is a simple yet effective way to avoid overindulgence throughout the holidays.
Learn The Art of Saying No
No matter how much self-control you have or how far you stay from the buffet table, there will always be that someone who grabs a plate for you and coerces you to taste their cooking. In times like this, many of us lose our willpower, afraid to disappoint. So we take the easy way out and give in to one too many treats.
Learn to say no politely. The secret is emphasizing how amazing everything tasted and how you have no room for another bite. Once you get into the habit, you will find it easy to decline tempting offers!