Just because Santa is rotund and plump doesn’t mean you have to emulate him for the holidays.
Recent studies from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging show that 51 percent of the nation’s annual weight gain occurs between Thanksgiving and January 1. So, how can you approach all the food-filled revelry without gaining those unhealthy pounds?
Certainly, holidays can be gratifying, but for many, the holidays can also generate stress, sadness and a demanding social calendar, making it’s all too easy to eat emotionally and to excess. (True emotional eating is commonly linked to stress or sadness — not physical hunger — and dieters often feel ashamed or regretful as soon as they finish, the studies show.)
To maintain your weight and your equilibrium, try keeping off the pounds to begin with, says physician James L. Hardeman, M.D., of St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif.
“It’s better to prevent unwanted weight gain [in the first place] than trying to remedy the situation after January,” says Hardeman.
Try these simple tips to help you resist temptation:
1. Skip the freebie treats.
Avoid unplanned indulgences, from freshly baked brownies in the kitchen at work to food samples lining the aisles at big box stores. Without thinking, you can ingest hundreds of unwanted calories. Like our cavemen ancestors, we are genetically programmed to gorge when food is available, says Hardeman. “Don’t give into your worst cravings; work on those willpower muscles instead.”
Quick tip: Bring leaner offerings to social gatherings: Try pickling vegetables or creating fancy low-fat veggie appetizers to balance out all the fattening fruit cakes weighing down the holiday buffet.
2. Nibble on something satisfying first.
Before you tempt the fates by showing up to an event ravenous, eat a 150-calorie snack about 30 minutes beforehand, so you’re not tempted to overindulge. A simple snack such as half an apple with nut butter or chips and salsa should do the trick. And if your willpower wavers during the festivities, try popping a piece of gum to occupy your mouth and inhibit snacking. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island discovered that people who chewed gum throughout the afternoon were less likely to nibble mindlessly than those who didn’t.
Quick tip: Munch more, but eat less. According to the University of Rhode Island research, nerves in the muscles of the jaw are stimulated by the motion of chewing and send signals to the appetite section of the brain linked to satiety, which explains why chewing motions may negate hunger pangs.
3. Limit your alcohol consumption. (Seriously.)
Not only are alcoholic beverages high in calories — a 7-ounce glass of red wine is approximately 170 calories, and a 12-ounce bottle of beer is 120 calories — but booze also loosens your resolve to eat healthfully. Limit consumption to one drink a day and make superior choices, such as low-alcohol beer or a light wine spritzer, rather than sugar-packed punch and cocktails.
Quick tip: Half the fun of holiday imbibing is the ritual of lifting a merry champagne flute and toasting to a better day. After one alcoholic drink, rinse the glass and replace booze with seltzer or ice tea. Add a berry and a stirrer and you can almost believe you’re still sipping the hard stuff.
4. Use an infallible buddy system.
Make a pact with your significant other or a dear friend to split desserts at holiday meals, load your plate with veggies and avoid second helpings across the board. Being accountable goes a long way toward resisting temptation. Hardeman says it’s just as easy to adopt a healthy habit together (like taking a vitamin every morning) as it is to adopt unhealthy ones.
Quick tip: Book a spring break trip or warm-weather getaway during the holidays. Thoughts of swimsuits and paddleboarding may help you bypass the extra cookies and fondue at your office party.
5. Prance, dance and do your exercises.
Don’t use Christmas as an excuse to skip the gym or yoga. If anything, increase your workout duration slightly to blast all the extra calories. Staying active also improves your mood, according to research from Tufts University. So, if you are prone to eating brownies to lift your spirits during the darkness of winter, try a physical activity to promote feelings of well-being without the fat grams.
Quick tip: Set your watch and computer alarms for daily workout, and keep a gym bag handy. Make definitive plans to see friends to play tennis, golf and hike. Do not allow the hectic tone of the holidays to sabotage your healthy lifestyle and its positive effects on your body and psyche.
Take the next steps
Take pleasure in the season, but make a commitment to yourself and others: The holidays will not weigh you down with extra pounds or senseless noshing. Recognize that you (or someone you love) may not always eat to satisfy hunger and that it pays to tap into friendly sources of support and emotional nourishment during this time of year.
Temptation may be everywhere, but you can make a pact with a good buddy, choose smarter food options, embrace family support and perform consistent exercises to enjoy a healthier, more stress-free year.