The year-end holidays are upon us! You know that stretch from Thanksgiving to January 2 where frequent nibbling and persistent overeating often ends with undesired weight gain. Following are strategies to help you make it through this blissful time of year, and still feel great in 2014.
Holiday weight gain tends to happen because more food is available – cookies and desserts at work; frequent gatherings involving food (and more beverages, too); and, endless buffets wherever you go. The problem lies largely in having a strategy for managing the amount of food available. So, how can you make sure you are able to successfully enjoy your holiday parties and manage your weight at the same time?
Set yourself up for success.
Eating less all day to “save up” for the party is not helpful. Skipping meals/snacks usually affects productivity, causes poor concentration, more difficulty with problem solving, and increased fatigue. It can also lead to overeating at the next meal or snack, such as at the holiday party or gathering. Take time to enjoy a bowl of soup, yogurt, vegetables and hummus, as an example of meal that will help meet your energy needs consistently throughout the day.
Take a plate.
Many individuals comment that they struggle with grazing or “picking” at foods left out at the party. By the end of the event, it’s hard to remember what or how much you ate. Learn to indulge intelligently at the buffet or appetizer spread by first scanning the buffet table to figure out which foods will be most satisfying for you. Make a plate balanced with some protein options, along with vegetables or fruit, whole grains or, and a dessert. This will help you be aware of portions and more conscious of how much you’re eating. Wait 20 minutes; and, if you decide you are still hungry, use your plate again to intentionally choose foods that will help you feel satisfied. Try to recognize when the food is "beckoning" you rather than thinking you are physically hungry. Getting involved in conversation or a game may be a helpful distraction. You may also want to try drinking water to ensure you aren't just thirsty (see below). As always, try to eat mindfully and savor these tasty holiday foods!
Location, Location, Location.
When you realize you are not hungry, step away from the food. Try to sit or stand away from the food table and near supportive people to decrease the urge to mindlessly eat. Take time to enjoy the folks you are celebrating the season with - participate in conversation, listen to stories, learn something new about a friend or relative. Most important, try to relax and have fun.
This is often the most common mistake people make (including me). On average, women and men need 2.7 and 3.4 liters of water per day, respectively. This does not include additional fluid needs for activity. Also, the hustle and bustle during this time of year may lead to decreased fluid intake. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger and can lead to overeating. Therefore, try to keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink frequently throughout the day – includingt the holiday party – with added limes, lemons, or cucumbers for extra flavor. An added benefit for some can be decreased headaches by avoiding dehydration. I know I feel so much better when I make this a priority!
Move your body!
Take time to include moderate, enjoyable movement in your day. Ideally 30 to 60 minutes of some cardio and strength training activity is recommended daily. If you already have an exercise routine, try and stay with it. You may also want to include less frenzied activity such as a yoga class or a peaceful leisure walk under the stars. To include the family (and unplug), consider walking together after a holiday meal; ice skating at a local park; going to a local museum or the zoo instead of sitting around.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease