33 Expert Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

33 Expert Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

We talked to the experts for tips to avoid adding extra pounds this holiday season.

By Judy Koutsky

As the holiday season quickly approaches, you probably have plenty of parties, cookie swaps, and family gatherings on the horizon. So how do you keep your weight in check while being bombarded with plenty of delicious (calorie-laden) treats? We asked the experts for easy tips to avoid weight gain this time of year.

1. Bring your own dish to every party. “I always make sure to bring a healthy appetizer or side dish to a party. That way, I know what ingredients I used and am comforted knowing that it is truly a healthy dish,” says Rene Ficek, RD.

2. Pick your splurges wisely. Not every holiday gathering is worth the splurge. There are so many holiday parties and events coming up. “Decide in advance which of these events are splurge-worthy and which are not,” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition.

3. Eat the full-fat version, just less of it. “If we try to make a favorite treat something it isn't (for example, brownies healthy by using black beans), we don't get the satisfaction our body is craving and end up eating more in the end,” says Heather Colleran, PhD, RDN, and sports dietitian.

4. Divide your plate. Remind yourself at all holiday meals: Half your plate should be vegetables and fruit, one quarter should be lean protein, and another quarter should be whole grains, says Ficek.

5. Avoid beige food and add color to your plate. “Beige food usually indicates that the item is processed -- usually fried, unhealthy food that’s been altered from its natural state,” says Dr. Meryl Held, MD, internal medicine physician. These foods are less nutritious and generally higher in calories than their whole food alternatives.

“Don’t forget to add lots of leafy greens, carrots, bell peppers, strawberries, and blueberries,” says Ficek.

6. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Traveling and work schedules around the holiday season can feel very hectic, but getting a consistent six to nine hours of sleep every night helps regulate hormones, promotes recovery from workouts, and prevents daily fatigue, says Lindsay Martin, MS, RD. Overeating can actually be prompted by lack of sleep.

7. Have snacks in your purse. Fill small baggies with grapes, cherries, carrots, or other favorite fruits or vegetables, says Weisenberger. Feel free to dip into them at holiday parties, gatherings, and meals. You’d be surprised at how nobody notices.

8. Drink cider instead of eggnog. When it comes to eggnog, the fat and calories add up fast. Just one small cup of store-bought eggnog can have about 200 calories, says Ficek. Instead, opt for an antioxidant-rich glass of cider. A dash of cinnamon will only increase the health benefits.

9. Practice mindful eating . Eat slowly and enjoy the texture, flavor, and smell of each bite. Not only does eating slowly help us avoid overeating, enjoying every bite improves how satiated we feel. “That's the point, right? To make each bite worth the calories,” says Kristen Trukova, MS, RD, and clinical dietitian.

10. Seconds are better than too many firsts. Instead of loading up your plate the first time around, go on the lighter side. You are more likely to eat what you load up. Remind yourself you can always get more later if you’re still hungry (and you may not be), notes Colleran.

11. Use smaller plates. “It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that your stomach is full. A smaller plate will force you to take less, allowing your brain the time it needs to catch up,” says Ficek. Even salad plates are a good option.

12. Skip the fried food. Choice between shrimp cocktail and coconut shrimp? Well, a helping of six battered shrimp has about 435 calories compared with six cocktail shrimp and a couple tablespoons of cocktail sauce at less than 80 calories, explains Ficek. Anytime there’s a fried and non-fried option, you know which to choose.

13. Eat before you show up at a party. Have a small, light meal with a lean protein like chicken to keep you full. If you fill up on healthy foods, you’re likely to just have a little of the higher calorie party foods, instead of overindulging on them as an entire meal, says Held.

14. Watch those creamy dishes. Some of the biggest culprits at holiday meals are cream- and mayonnaise-based appetizers and side dishes. When a dish is based in sour cream, cream cheese, or mayo, about two tablespoons equals 100 calories says Ficek. And that can quickly add up. As a general rule of thumb, steer clear of these types of dishes, or at least practice moderation. 

15. Prioritize the buffet table with your eyes first. If you’re hungry when you get to the party, check out the buffet and choose the healthiest items first. You can always get to the less healthy choices once you are more satiated, says Held.

16. Focus on the celebration and company, not the food. Because others influence the way we eat, sit with someone who has enviable eating habits, recommends Weisenberger.

17. Don’t finish it. If you try something and don’t like it, don’t finish it to be polite. It’s wasted calories, says Colleran. 

18. Drink lots of water. Many times when people think they are hungry, they are actually just thirsty. By drinking lots of water throughout the day, you'll lower the risk of overeating, adds Ficek. 

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19. Walk away from the food table. Having that distance will prevent you from snacking while you talk, notes Held.

20. Eat breakfast. To combat the urge to go overboard on holiday goodies, make sure to eat breakfast that morning. Eating breakfast will also keep your energy level high. Choose a sensible breakfast with protein and fiber so you're not too ravenous by the time the party starts, says Ficek.


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21. Switch the hand that you eat with. Just this simple change has been shown to decrease the amount eaten at a dinner by 30 percent, explains Held.

22. Continue to eat regular meals. Preparing for the holidays can be stressful and busy, and people are inclined to skip a meal or two. Eating regular meals provides energy throughout the day and helps prevent overeating at the next meal. Taking time for a meal also increases the likelihood of including fruits and vegetables to provide balance and nutrition, says Trukova.

23. Mix your drinks. If you’re drinking alcohol, mix it with water or add seltzer to create a spritzer. This will do two things: It’ll keep your empty alcohol calories way down, plus will keep you from getting tipsy, says Held.

24. Walk it off. After a holiday meal or party, invite your guests (or coworkers or friends) to join you for a stroll around the neighborhood, says Amy Musselman, MS, RD, clinical dietitian.

25. Rotate your cocktails with a glass of water. This ensures that you stay hydrated while slowing the alcohol going into your bloodstream, says Held. 

26. Don’t try every dish , notes Colleran. That’s a surefire way to overeat. Just sample your favorites.

27. Use fruit in baked goods. Swap the refined sugar in baked goods with pureed fruit like mashed banana or applesauce. The fruit will add more nutrients and fiber to your pastry or cake. Using unsweetened applesauce can decrease the amount of oil needed in your cooking by about half as well, says Held.

28. Skip soda and juice drinks. They’re empty calories with little or no nutritional value. “They are the pointless poison of our society and should be avoided,” says Held.

29. Watch those appetizers. “Remember, each appetizer generally has between 60 to 100 calories per piece, so it is really easy to add a few hundred calories to your meal without intending to,” warns Held.

30. Eat with the season. If you’re going to indulge, skip the items – chips, chocolate chip cookies -- that are available year round. Just focus on a few seasonal treats, suggests Musselman.

31. Give yourself a treat allowance. Engage in moderation, not deprivation. Decide what amount of dessert or other treat food is appropriate and make it part of your plan, says Weisenberger.

32. Don’t clean your plate. It’s just that simple, says Colleran.

33. Forgive yourself. If you have more than you intended, forgive yourself, move on, and don’t let it derail you from your health and fitness goals, says Held.

What is your trick for avoiding holiday weight gain?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/CentralITAlliance

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