Five pounds of weight gain during the holidays is a disproven myth that pops up annually like holiday lights.
But before you do a happy dance and pile that extra whipped cream on your pie, you should know two things.
One, people do gain weight during the holidays. Two, the extra pounds tend to stick around because most people never lose their holiday weight. Over time, these extra pounds can lead to obesity and weight-related conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
From personal and professional experience, I see two primary attitudes regarding holiday eating. They are either “I’ll wait till January to go on a diet” or “I’m on a diet”, so I can’t eat anything I like during the holidays.
”Both extremes prevent enjoyable and healthy eating during the holidays because they place the focus on food. With both mindsets, food is in control, which leaves you feeling out of control. Rather than having an “all or none” mindset during the holidays, I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions:
- “What matters most to me during the holidays?” In a recent survey, 72% of Americans said they look forward to spending time with family during the holidays. Although food often accompanies family celebrations, it’s the time with family that matters most. Choose to savor sweet time with loved ones instead of stuffing yourself with excess sugary sweets.
- “How can I enjoy myself without food or alcoholic beverages?” So often, we eat or drink certain foods out of habit. Shift your mindset from “We always do this” to “What could we do instead?” Asking this question may be the doorway to creating new, non–food-centered traditions.
- “How can I have the foods I love during the holidays and still meet my weight and wellness goals?” This question helps you create opportunities instead of depriving yourself. Rather than depriving yourself, you could cut back on snacking or reduce your sugar intake elsewhere. Or add an extra workout session or stress reduction practice during the holidays.
The purpose of mindful eating isn’t weight loss. Some studies suggest it may help maintain weight. More importantly, mindfulness can improve your relationship with food and promote wellness. Traditional tips for mindful eating include doing the following as you eat:
Being present at the moment, not judging your food, slowing down, and savoring the taste of your food.
HOWEVER, asking these additional questions may enhance mindful eating. For instance:
“Am I eating to avoid uncomfortable emotions?” Holidays can trigger emotions such as grief, sadness, and anxiety. Also, preexisting mental health conditions can worsen. Decadent foods become a quick fix leading to more emotional eating during this season. Addressing these emotions can help you avoid overeating during the holidays (For mental health resources, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness).
“What food or drink do I most enjoy during the holidays?” Trying to resist your favorite holiday treats can be an exhausting test of “willpower.”
Eventually, cravings win for biological and psychological reasons, and you “cheat” on your plan to not eat holiday treats. Plan to eat your “indulgence food” in moderation to prevent this painful battle of treat vs cheat. Savor the foods you enjoy. Then cut out the rest of the food you don’t like or feel you must eat because “Aunty Sarah will feel bad.”
Many holiday treats and parties are unavoidable unless you plan to hide in a cave for the next few weeks.
Rather than torturing yourself nibbling on celery and sipping on sparkling water during your holiday event, create a strategy.
For 8 years, I’ve been on my weight loss and wellness journey. I have a holiday strategy that helps my patients & clients maintain their weight and wellness during the holidays. One critical part of the strategy is to anticipate indulgence events.
Specifically, look at all the planned holiday events and choose three indulgence events. Do your best to stay on your plan the rest of the time. Knowing your indulgence events to look forward to gives you a sense of control over when you indulge. On non-indulgent days, think, “I can eat it but choose not to” instead of the limiting thought, “I can’t eat that.” Choice is a powerful tool. Once at an indulgence event, I focus on mindful eating and enjoying people around me, which cuts down on overeating just because “I can.”
Managing Holiday Stress
For some individuals, holidays can bring in not just joy but stress & anxiety as well.
This can be due to the pressure that comes from planning a perfect holiday for friends & family and the expenses that follow along with it.
There are many ways how stress can lead to weight gain:
- During stressful times, your appetite can increase due to the hormone cortisol, which can lead to overeating.
- Eating high-calorie foods releases dopamine (feel-good hormones), therefore people can use it as a way to cope with stress and find comfort.
- If the cortisol level stays high for a prolonged period, it can impact your metabolism rate~ making it harder for your body to use calories efficiently thus leading to weight gain.
Therefore, it’s essential to manage stress effectively to minimize its impact on weight gain.
Practicing relaxation techniques every morning such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can help activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce stress levels.
Spending time with friends & family is important during the holidays but don’t forget to spare some time for yourself to enjoy things that bring you joy. This could include reading, taking baths, or even doing something creative such as painting.
Get Enough Sleep
Prioritizing sleep during the holidays can be challenging due to various social engagements, travel, and disrupted routines.
Lack of sleep can throw off your normal hormonal balance which can affect your appetite.
It increases the ghrelin hormone levels (which stimulate appetite) and decreases leptin hormone levels (which signal fullness), resulting in higher calorie consumption.
Here are a few tips to help you get enough sleep during the holidays:
- Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Intake: Be mindful of your consumption of caffeine and alcohol, as they can interfere with sleep. Limit your intake, especially in the evening, to ensure that they don’t disrupt your ability to fall asleep or have a restful sleep.
- Practice Stress Management: The holiday season can bring additional stress, which can interfere with sleep. So incorporate stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle yoga to help relax your mind and body before bed.
- Planning The Travel: If you’re traveling during the holidays, try to avoid overnight flights or long drives that can disrupt your sleep schedule. Allow yourself time to adjust to different time zones if necessary.
Consume High Protein Meals
It can be extremely easy to indulge in high-carbohydrate and sugary foods during the holiday period.
However, consuming an adequate amount of protein has its advantages for preventing weight gain.
Protein has a high satiating value, meaning that it will keep you feeling full for longer.
Additionally, proteins have a higher thermic effect on food compared to carbohydrates and fats. The thermic effect of foods relates to the energy required to digest and absorb nutrients.
Therefore, your body will burn more calories during the digestion and metabolism of protein-rich foods~ supporting with keeping your calories in check.
Per meal, you should aim to eat between 15g-30g of healthy protein, which will help keep your appetite under control.
Limit Sugary and Alcohol Beverages
Most drinks such as soda, juices, flavored coffee, and alcohol are high in calories. Since liquids are easily absorbed, it doesn’t provide the same level of fullness and satisfaction as eating whole foods.
This gives you the illusion that you’re consuming fewer calories than you are consuming.
Sugary beverages spike your blood sugar level drastically, in which insulin is released to lower your sugar levels~ this causes cravings to arise as your body looks for additional sugar for energy.
For this reason, try sticking to water for hydration as much as possible and limit other types of beverages.
Choose Healthier Dishes
Junk & processed foods tend to taste better than whole foods.
This can be more evident during holiday times when you just want to completely relax and enjoy the moment~ resulting in feasting on junk food and restricting whole foods.
Even though holidays are meant to be enjoyed, you should maintain some consciousness about what you are eating throughout the day to prevent weight gain down the line.
Your meals should be balanced out with a variety of fruits & vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains while minimizing refined sugar & carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, fried foods, desserts, and sugary beverages.
Being inactive the whole day causes calories to build up, resulting in them turning into fat and being stored around the body.
Exercising does not need to include going to the gym or going for a tiring run. But instead, it can just be an enjoyable walk around the park with friends or family.
Doing some types of physical activity with loved ones is a great way to stay active and provides an opportunity to spend time with them to create some life-lasting memories.
Like protein, high-fiber foods tend to fill you up more and provide a greater sense of satiety after meals.
Also during digestion fiber attracts water in your gut which forms a gel-like substance that slows down your digestion. This can help regulate blood sugar levels to prevent sharp spikes and crashes~ reducing cravings for high-sugar and high-calorie foods.
To get the effect of slow digestion, eat soluble fibers rather than insoluble fibers such as apples, oats, peas, flax seeds, and oranges.
Why Do I Gain Weight During Holidays?
Weight gain mostly occurs from indulging in high-calorie foods and beverages during the holidays.
Restrict eating too much junk food and drinking sugary & alcoholic beverages to avoid overloading on calories.
Focus on including lean proteins and soluble fibers to help satiate your hunger.
Does Holiday Weight Gain Last Forever?
The weight you gain during the holidays isn’t significant, so it can be pretty easy to lose it.
However, the trouble comes when people get lazy and don’t take any actions~ which can have a snowball effect leading to further weight gain down the line.
So, it’s better to tackle the problem as soon as possible to prevent the situation from worsening.
How To Not Gain Weight During the Holidays?
Holidays are the period when people tend to eat more food, desserts, snacks, and drinks that are typically higher in calories.
Also, physical activity usually tends to drop, meaning fewer calories are being burnt during the day.
To overcome this, you can:
- Practice mindful eating
- Have a thought-out meal strategy
- Get enough sleep
- Manage your stress
- Add fiber/protein to your diet
- Do daily physical activities
- Cut down on sugary and alcoholic beverages
- Choose healthier meals
This holiday season is a reunion time for many people, after enduring long separations from family and friends due to the pandemic.
Even though relishing time with loved ones should be your main focus during the holidays — you should still pay some attention to your weight as it contributes to your overall well-being.
You don’t need to implement all the strategies mentioned above (this will just ruin the taste of your holiday season)
Choose ones that you can manage without it feeling like a chore. So, you could both enjoy your holiday and have increased control over your weight.
Whatever you do, may you and your loved ones have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable holiday season.
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