It’s that time of year when tempting treats appear at every turn. The opportunity to indulge in probably less-than-healthy snacks abounds and it will take some effort to avoid putting on a pound or two by the New Year.
What’s so bad about adding on a little weight around the holidays? Researchers at the National Institutes of Health state that most Americans will never lose the extra weight they gain during the holidays. Year after year the pounds add up and can contribute to increasing health issues.
But this doesn’t have to happen to you! It IS possible to enjoy holiday celebrations without gaining weight and we have some tips to help you:
1. Never Arrive Hungry
If you’re attending a social occasion, make sure you have a healthy snack or drink lots of water before you go. If you feel full when you arrive, you will be less likely to overdo it or make choices you otherwise wouldn’t. Don’t eat if you are not hungry. If someone offers you extra food, tell them thank you and you’ll love to try it later when you are hungrier.
2. Don’t Drink Your Calories
It’s easy to forget that the festive drinks you might be enjoying are usually adding a lot of empty calories and sugar without adding much nutrition. Consuming sugary drinks and alcohol will just make you want more as your body realizes that its needs are not being met, so you get a lot of calories without much health benefit. Sometimes we feel hungry when our body really is thirsty, so make sure you get the full recommended amount of spring water (one ounce for every pound of weight). Drinking alcohol also makes you less likely to be able to control how much you eat. If you feel out of place without a drink, try sparkling water with a twist of lemon or lime or some pomegranate juice, so you can keep a glass in your hand and avoid feeling self-conscious.
3. Increase Physical Activity After Meals
Make a practice of taking a walk after you eat. Taking a 15 minute walk after dinner has been shown to normalize blood sugar levels for up to 3 hours. When it gets colder, it may be harder to want to go outside and exercise and if that’s the case, schedule some extra time in the gym to burn off some calories and move your body. Make it a family activity to go out together and get exercise before or after your meal, even if it’s a dance party in your living room or a rousing game of charades.
4. Focus On Friends And Family At Get-togethers – Not Food
When family and friends get together, the focus is often around the food but don’t forget the real reason we spend time with loved ones around the holidays – and make that your primary focus. Instead of eating a lot of extra food, invest your attention in spending time with people and deepening the relationships in your life, playing games, dancing, and enjoying the atmosphere. If you have a choice of venue, choose a healthy café with live music over an all-you-can-eat restaurant or buffet that encourages overeating. Choose quality over quantity.
5. Don’t Skip A Meal in Preparation For A Feast.
A lot of people think that they save calories by skipping a meal before a social night out, but studies have shown that if you are over-hungry, you are likely to eat even more calories than you ordinarily would, so skipping a meal and making up for it later is a plan that can easily backfire.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Getting sufficient sleep is important for brain function, immunity, overall health, and can also help prevent weight gain. If your body is sleep-deprived, you will be more susceptible to reaching for a high sugar or high caffeine snack or pick-me-up to keep going. Aim to go to sleep 30 minutes earlier than normal and ideally stay asleep for 7 hours to minimize extra snacking and maximize physical rejuvenation. Sleep helps to fight off illness, fatigue, and exhaustion…all of which can lead to overeating during stressful times. Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugars if you are experiencing issues with falling and staying asleep.
7. Eat Your Veggies First!
When you have a variety of food options, eat your veggies first and chew slowly to give your body a chance to register satiety. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to register all the food it has received so if you eat quickly you can more easily overeat. Drink your food and chew your drinks to give your system a chance to recognize completely all it has received. This means to take your time consuming beverages to slow down the absorption into your system and chew your food until it becomes more liquefied to enhance absorption and register that your body has received nutrition. Start by eating vegetables first to fill up your stomach with healthy options. Eat at a leisurely pace and put your fork down between bites to make it the experience last longer.
8. If You Do Choose To Splurge, Set A Limit And Stick To It.
For passed appetizers like canapés, try setting a limit of three or for a buffet, choose a small plate and don’t go for refills. It’s all about moderation and letting yourself have a taste, but not overdoing it. Choose simple foods like fruits and vegetables while avoiding heavy sauces and dips. Control your own portions. Avoid starchy food where possible. Your body will thank you! If you want to eat something sweet, pick just one item you like the best and have a small portion rather than piling multiple desserts on your plate.
9. Bring Your Own Treats
Bring a healthy meal to any get-together, like a marinated kale salad, veggie platter, or fruit salad that you can snack on also and so you always have a healthy option to fall back on. Let go of the idea that your dish has to be something traditional and make health a high priority. Grazing on some carrot sticks is just as easy as grazing on sweets but your body will appreciate not having the extra burden of sugar to deal with.
Remember that it is much easier to be proactive and prevent added weight gain than it is to take it off once you have put it on so engage your inner strength and make healthier choices this holiday season!
Here’s a crowd-pleasing healthy recipe that is great for potlucks:
Kale Salad with Nuts and Cranberries
1 bunch organic kale
1 small bulb fennel or ½ cup shredded purple cabbage (optional)
Juice of one lemon
3-4 TBS (approx.) extra virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons honey
Salt to taste
Garnish with sliced almonds or pistachios and dried cranberries or dried cherries.
Separate the kale leaves from the stems and tear the leaves into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Place the kale in a large bowl. Add lemon, olive oil and salt and massage leaves by hand until soft and resembling a “cooked” appearance. The acid and salt will help break down the fibrousness of the kale.
Thinly slice the fennel or cabbage with a food processor, mandolin, or knife and add to the bowl of kale.
Garnish with your favorite nuts and dried berries. Pistachios and cranberries are holiday favorites!