It’s that time of year again. . . time to sit back and say “no thank you” as the holiday treat platter is passed countless times at numerous parties and seasonal events. With friends and neighbors dropping off sweet treat plates, big holiday dinners with family, and baking your own family’s traditional holiday favorites, it’s no small wonder why Americans tend to pack on the pounds in December.
Why are the holidays linked to unhealthy foods that make us gain weight, and how can we reverse the process when it’s linked to tradition? Imagine a holiday filled with carrot sticks and cauliflower florets instead of cookies and fudge. It doesn’t have to be that extreme, but there are some major steps you can take to keep your holiday weight gain in check while enjoying a few tasty treats at the same time.
Why the Holidays are Associated with Unhealthy Food
It’s greatly a matter of tradition. Family and friends cook the same fattening meals and array of holiday treats that they grew up with, and that their mothers made for them, and their grandmothers made before that. When you combine long-standing holiday traditions with multiple holiday parties that offer food and drink trays around every corner, it becomes a recipe for excessive weight gain.
You can make a small change for the greater good of your family now and in future generations by starting a new tradition in your own household, and it doesn’t have to involve carving skinny snowmen out of carrot sticks. Try introducing a raw dessert sweetened with dates and berries, planning a Christmas day hike in the woods, or giving unwanted food to those that are less fortunate.
Simple Ideas for Managing your Holiday Diet
It’s amazing how the number one way to avoid holiday weight gain—a plan that involves doing nothing at all—can be so much harder than actually doing something. Yet turning down extra calories is a surefire way to curb the onslaught of holiday weight gain. But on top of managing your diet and eating a balance of different foods, there are a few things you can do to be proactive about avoiding weight gain during December.
But first, the don’ts
- Don’t eat extra calories. Weight gain comes from taking in more calories than you burn over a given period of time. And nature has been kinder to some than others. Unfortunately, a person with a fast metabolism can burn more calories by doing nothing than a person with a slow metabolism can through exercise. If you’re not very active and/or weight gain runs in your family, you’ll need to be extra careful during the holidays. Make sure you don’t consume more calories than you’ll expend each day, which will lead to weight gain regardless of the foods you eat.
- Don’t skip daily exercise routines. Extra demands during the holidays mean that nearly everyone is over-extended, but skipping your exercise routine is not a good way to find extra time for holiday shopping and parties when it comes to controlling weight gain. Put exercise at the top of your list of priorities if it isn’t already and keep it there through the New Year. If you’re really low on time, look for creative solutions such as parking several blocks away from work and walking the extra distance.
- Cut out simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates such a white flour, sugar, and corn syrup—the main ingredients in many holiday treats—are the main culprits of weight gain. Other problem items that regularly grace the holiday table are potatoes, bread, and sugary side dishes like sweet potato casserole. Fill your plate with salad, veggies, and turkey first, and take only a taste or two of any high-carb foods.
- Don’t drink too much. Alcohol immediately converts to sugar inside the body, leading to near-instant weight gain, and should be considered a simple carb to be avoided as much as possible. If you must indulge, limit yourself to one or two drinks and follow each one with two full glasses of water.
And now, the dos:
- Fill up on healthier foods during the main course. Turn down fattening appetizers and finger foods to save room for the main course. During dinner, fill your plate with fresh fruits and veggies first, meat and whole-grains next, and carbohydrates last. With any luck there won’t be much room left on your plate—or in your stomach—for simple carbohydrates and dessert.
- Give more than you receive. Many people enjoy baking treats for others during the holidays, which means you may receive several plates of treats on top of the ones you might be baking yourself. Make sure you tell friends in advance if you don’t want to receive gifts of sugar. Ask them to make donations to food banks and soup kitchens instead, and consider doing the same with some of your own holiday treats.
- Start your New Year’s resolutions on Dec. 1. Losing weight and getting back in shape are at the top of the list of New Year’s resolutions for a majority of Americans. Image how far ahead of the game you’d be if you started practicing your yearly resolutions a month early. Binge eating during the holidays with plans to take off the pounds after the New Year sets many people up for failure when it comes to meeting weight loss and exercise goals.
- Begin medical and cosmetic weight loss treatments before the holidays. Putting time and money into your body before the holidays makes you less likely to fall off the diet wagon, which may take away from your new look.