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20 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays

The holidays are an exciting time of year. But between the
parties, stress and baked goods, it’s also a time when people
tend to gain weight.

In fact, between mid-November and mid-January, adults gain an
average of one pound, or half a kilogram (1).

This may not seem like a lot, but most people don’t lose the
weight they gain over the holidays. For this reason, holiday
weight gain is one of the biggest contributors to total yearly
weight gain for many people.

The good news is that weight gain during the holidays is not
inevitable.

Here are 20 tips to help you avoid weight gain during the
holiday season.

1. Be Active With Family and Friends

Mom and Daughter Eating Christmas Cookies

Sedentary activities, such as sitting on the couch watching
sports, are common holiday traditions for many families.

Inactivity may contribute to weight
gain
, especially when lounging around is accompanied by
eating excessive amounts of food (2, 3).

Doing some type of physical activity while on holiday with your
family may prove to be beneficial for weight control.

An activity as simple as a family walk can provide benefits, as
it will get your mind off food and allow you to bond with your
loved ones.

You can also be active during the holidays by signing up for a
workplace or community fitness competition or event. Running
races are popular options.

2. Be Smart When Snacking

During the holiday season, unhealthy snacks like cookies and
other goodies tend to be available for you to take as you
please.

When treats are easy to access, unnecessary snacking
or grazing is more likely to occur.

At home, this problem can be solved by keeping treats out of
sight. However, that strategy is more difficult to avoid in
situations that you cannot control, such as your workplace or a
family dinner party.

You can overcome these situations by being mindful of your
snacking habits. If you find yourself snacking just because
there’s food available — and not because you’re hungry — then
it’s best to avoid snacking altogether.

However, if you are hungry and need a snack, opt for real
foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are filling snacks
that don’t contain
added sugars
or unhealthy fats, both of which can lead to
weight gain.

3. Watch Your Portion Sizes

When the holidays arrive, it can be easy to overdo it on your
portion sizes.

Those who eat larger-than-recommended portions tend to gain
weight more easily than those who don’t (4).

The best way to overcome this is to weigh and measure your
food, or eat off smaller plates, which is discussed more below.

To determine an appropriate portion size, read food
labels
and the recommended serving sizes listed on recipes.

If you’re in a situation that leaves you unable to measure
portions, use your best judgment to fill your plate with a
reasonable amount of food.

4. Practice Mindful Eating

People are often rushed and on the go throughout the holiday
season, which frequently leads to multitasking during meals.

Studies show that those who eat while they are distracted are
more likely to overeat. This is because they are unable to pay
attention to their body’s fullness signals (5, 6).

To prevent this from happening, eat mindfully without
distractions, including work and electronics.

Another way to eat mindfully is to eat slowly and chew your
food thoroughly, which will allow you to better recognize your
body’s signals of fullness and consume fewer calories (7).

It can also be helpful to take a few deep breaths before you
start eating. This can induce relaxation and help you keep your
full attention on your plate, rather than your to-do list.

Several studies show that those who engage in mindful
eating
practices are less likely to gain weight (8, 9).

5. Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is quite common during the holidays, and it
may cause weight gain.

This is because those who do not sleep enough tend to be
hungrier, consume more calories and get less physical activity
(10, 11, 12, 13).

The reason behind this is that sleep restriction may increase
your hunger hormone levels, ultimately leading to higher
calorie intake.

Additionally, inadequate
sleep
has been linked to lower metabolism. This is believed
to be due to alterations in your circadian rhythm, which is
known as the biological clock that regulates many bodily
functions (10, 14).

6. Control Your Stress Levels

Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful.

Those who are stressed commonly have high levels of cortisol, a
hormone that’s released in response to stress. Chronically high
cortisol levels may cause weight gain, as they have been linked
to greater food intake (15, 16).

Additionally, a stressful lifestyle may cause more cravings for
junk food (16).

For these reasons, it’s important to keep stress levels under
control throughout the entire year, but especially during the
holidays when you might be plagued with more tasks and
surrounded by unhealthy foods.

There are plenty of things you can do during the holidays to
reduce stress. Some options include exercise, meditation, yoga
and deep breathing.

7. Keep Meals Balanced With Protein

Holiday meals are typically rich in
carbs
but lack protein.

However, it’s important to include some protein with every
meal, as it promotes fullness and may be useful for weight
maintenance (17, 18, 19).

In fact, eating protein with meals may automatically reduce
calorie intake by reducing hunger and appetite (20).

Protein is also beneficial for weight control because it
increases
your metabolism
and levels of appetite-reducing hormones
(17).

For these weight-management benefits, you should include at
least 25–30 grams of protein in each meal (17).

Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish and some
plant foods like beans and quinoa. Ensure your holiday meals
include a serving or two of these foods to reduce the
likelihood of overindulgence.

8. Focus on Fiber

Fiber
is another important nutrient that induces fullness.

Some studies show that increased dietary fiber can reduce total
calorie intake, which may be a method to prevent weight gain
over the holidays (21, 22).

Unfortunately, many common holiday foods lack adequate amounts
of fiber. Do your best to incorporate fiber-rich
foods
, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains,
nuts and seeds, into your meals.

9. Cut Back on Taste Testing

Many people spend a lot of time cooking and baking during the
holiday season.

Surprisingly, this can lead to weight gain. That’s because
along with the cooking and baking comes taste testing, and even
small bites of baked goods and holiday dishes can add up in
calories.

Tasting your dishes can be important, especially if you are
cooking for others, but a small bite of less than a teaspoon is
probably more than enough.

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You should also make sure that you aren’t hungry while cooking,
as it’s much easier to go overboard on taste testing when your
stomach is growling.

10. Bring a Healthy Dish to Share

Holiday parties can be a common setback in the battle against
holiday weight gain. In these instances, you often have no
control over the food that’s served.

The good news is that you can have control. Simply bring your
own healthy dish for yourself and to share with others.

This way, you can be sure you’ll have something to eat that
aligns with your weight goals.

11. Choose Desserts Wisely and Savor Them

Dessert is everywhere during the holiday season. This often
leads to excessive
sugar
consumption, a common cause of weight gain (23).

Instead of eating every treat in sight, it can be helpful to
focus on your favorites. Eat the ones you really want and ditch
the rest.

Another trick is to savor the desserts you do indulge in, which
may leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to overdo
dessert.

To savor desserts, eat them slowly and mindfully so you can
really taste and enjoy them.

12. Limit Liquid Calories

The holidays are a time of year when alcohol,

soda
and other sweetened beverages seem to be unlimited.

These beverages can contribute a significant amount of sugar
and empty calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain
(24).

Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased
appetite and is a risk factor for weight gain (25).

If you’re trying to control your weight, it is best to limit
liquid calories during the holidays — and all year long, for
that matter.

13. Use a Smaller Plate

Dinner parties and potlucks are common occasions during the
holiday season.

While people often think of these as diet disasters, they don’t
have to be if you eat from a smaller plate.

This is based on the fact that people tend to consume larger
portions off of large plates, which may lead to overeating
(26, 27, 28).

By using the simple trick of choosing a smaller plate, you can
control portions and therefore reduce the likelihood of holiday
weight gain.

14. Reduce Calories in Recipes

Excessive calorie intake is a primary cause of weight gain
during the holidays.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of
things you can do to lower the calorie contents of recipes.
Here are some ideas on how to reduce calories in baking,
cooking and beverages:

Baking

  • Replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana or pumpkin
    puree.
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie substitute such as
    stevia, erythritol or xylitol.
  • Add dried fruit instead of chocolate chips or candies.
  • Flavor recipes with extracts like vanilla, almond and
    peppermint instead of butter and sugar.

Cooking

  • Flavor dishes with herbs and spices instead of butter.
  • Use cooking methods such as baking, steaming or grilling
    instead of frying.
  • Substitute low-fat or skim milk for heavy cream.
  • Replace cream cheese, sour cream and mayo with Greek
    yogurt.

Beverages

  • Use club soda or sparkling water in place of sweetened
    beverages.
  • Flavor drinks with freshly squeezed lemon or lime rather
    than sugar. Cinnamon can also add flavor to holiday-themed
    beverages.
  • In dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk in place of
    heavy cream.

15. Weigh Yourself Regularly

Stepping on the scale regularly during the holidays may help
prevent weight gain.

In some studies, individuals who weigh themselves regularly are
able to maintain or lose weight better than those who do not
weigh themselves (29, 30).

Do what works best for you when it comes to weighing yourself.
Some find it beneficial to check their weight daily, while
others are successful weighing themselves once or twice a week.

16. Use the Buddy System

Many people report success with their weight goals when they
have a partner to pursue them with.

Finding a health buddy who has similar weight goals may be
useful over the holidays, as this person can keep you motivated
and accountable.

Reach out to friends, family and co-workers to find someone
willing to partner with you in your effort to prevent weight
gain.

17. Avoid Processed Foods

The hectic holiday season has led to the increased availability
of
processed
holiday convenience foods, such as boxed mashed
potatoes and stuffing.

While these may be quick and easy, they often contain excess
sugar and unhealthy fats that are not good for weight control.

To prevent weight gain, opt for whole foods this holiday
season. Focus on making meals and baked goods from scratch
instead of a box.

That way, you can control what goes in your food and stay on
top of your weight.

18. Plan Ahead

All of the suggestions in this article come down to planning
ahead if you are watching your weight over the holidays.

If you have events that involve food on the calendar, take
matters into your own hands. Find out what types of foods will
be served and if you need to, bring your own dish. Decide what
and how much you will eat ahead of time.

It can also be helpful to gather a list of healthy holiday
recipes, so you always have a go-to when you need to bring
something to a party.

19. Skip Seconds

Holiday meals are often served in a buffet style, with several
options to choose from in unlimited amounts.

This leads people to serve themselves seconds — and maybe even
thirds.

The calories from double helpings can add up and contribute to
weight gain.

To overcome this, assess your hunger when you finish your first
plate. If you’re still hungry, have a little more food. If
you’re not, then you’ve probably had enough and can move on to
enjoy other aspects of the gathering.

20. Draw the Line

During the holiday season, many people have an “I’ll start
tomorrow” mentality, which can end up being a vicious cycle of
unhealthy habits.

If you are serious about controlling your weight over the
holidays, it may be helpful to draw the line, set limits for
yourself and stick to your goals regarding food intake.

Decide which foods are worth it to you and which ones are not.
Know that it’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that
don’t align with your goals.

It’s also important to be aware that you might have a slip-up
or two.

People often abandon their goals after this happens. However,
there is no need for this. Simply move on and make a healthier
choice the next time you eat.

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