Thanksgiving is over and the holidays have officially begun. It’s frenzy time. And tradition tells us that this is a time when people throw caution to the wind in anticipation of New Years’ resolutions.
When you think about it, it’s really not that long until the holidays are over. I got out the calendar and counted 35 days in total. How much harm can someone do in 35 days?
With this in mind, I’m kicking off the season with my top 5 ways to avoid holiday weight gain:
1. Don’t buy into it. I think the number the holidays do on weight gain is exaggerated. A few years ago I was pitching a story to a magazine and actually looked up that 7-pound-weight-gain-during-the-holidays rumor. I was surprised to find the average weight gain from Thanksgiving to New Year’s to be just under a pound.
All this talk about over-indulging, and starting the New Year virtuous, makes overeating as contagious as the flu. In fact, a 2002 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that people who anticipated going on a diet ate more than those who didn’t.
So don’t buy into it. Enjoy the traditional food that’s around during the holidays but break the tradition of overeating.
2. Don’t graze, eat meals. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, conducts super-interesting research on why people eat more than they think they do. His research finds that the average person has already eaten 90% of their daily calorie needs before sitting down to their holiday meal.
How is this possible? It’s all the grazing that’s done before the meal. A little bit of this. A lot of that. More picking. A little more picking.
So instead of grazing, get a small plate and pick your favorite appetizers, sit down and enjoy every bite. Remind yourself that you need just enough to hold you over (but not to spoil your appetite) until the main meal is served.
3. Be active. There really is no better time to be active than during the holidays. The weather is nice (well, most places) and the gyms are free of crowds. Before kids, I always signed up for a walk/run in late December/early January. I plan to do it this year and ask some friends to join me. This way, I can run ahead of time, use exercise as a stress reliever, and spend some much-needed time with friends.
Use exercise to feel good all season long. Michelle Segar says it perfectly in this article on More.com.
4. Practice a new way of eating. I talk a lot on this site about eating intuitively – getting in touch with hunger cues and stopping when comfortably full. We can learn a lot from our children when it comes to eating just the right the amount of food our bodies need. And there’s no better time to practice an intuitive eating style than the holidays because most people aren’t dieting or trying to be “good.”
So experiment with eating your favorite indulgent type foods, enjoy them without judgment and stop when you’re satisfied. The key is reminding yourself that you can have more later in the day, tomorrow or the following day. The same way people tend to eat more in anticipation of a diet, they actually eat less when they know they can have more if they want to.
In the book I’m always recommended to moms, Intuitive Eating, the authors say that their clients naturally fall into a diet that’s 90% nutritious and 10% fun foods. Maybe it’s because they no longer need an excuse (holidays, sick, vacation, stress etc) to over eat foods they enjoy.
For mindblowing research on how dieting affects weight, see Evelyn Tribole’s 411 website.
5. Cut back. The stress of the holidays makes matter worse. Families aren’t eating together, food is grabbed in a hurry and many parents stay up late doing more stuff. Ask yourself if you really need to do everything this year. Maybe it’s time to cut back, be choosy about how you spend your time and focus more on enjoying the season.
Any thoughts? Got additional tips about getting through the season?
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Urbszat D, Herman CP, Polivy J. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we diet: effects of anticipated deprivation on food intake in restrained and unrestrained eaters. J Abnormal Psychol. 2002 May; 111(2): 396-401.
Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutr Rev. 2000 Dec’58(12):378-9.