The holiday season can be a challenge anyone trying to maintain their diets and fitness routines, even those with strong willpower. With the season as an excuse to indulge and the new year as the start date to a revamped routine, healthy habits can fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, studies have found most Americans never lose the weight they put on during the holidays. If left unchecked, the weight adds up year after year, prompting scientists to link holiday weight gain and adult obesity.
Even if you’re someone with impressive willpower, these 10 steps will help you stay on track, keeping your cravings in check and your fitness routine steady, during the holiday season.
1. Never arrive at a party starving.
Many people believe fasting before a holiday party, arriving on an empty stomach, justifies, or helps mitigate, the amount and quality of food they eat there. This may be effective with adequate portion control, but this is not a skill most people have. Being starving just before sitting down to a meal can actually cause food overcompensation, where a person eats much more than they would have if they had eaten normally throughout the course of that day. To avoid this, eat the day of!
2. Prioritize vegetables and protein.
One of the best ways to prevent overeating is by eating foods that help you feel fuller for longer periods of time, like vegetables and protein. Vegetables are high-fiber foods, which take longer to digest. Protein is filling and also slow digesting. Since these foods are slow digesting, they maximize the effects of satiety. Eating meals high in vegetables and protein throughout the day of a celebration can help minimize the urge to overeat.
3. Chew and eat slowly.
Once at the party, there are no doubt a number of exciting and tempting options we don’t often eat. Seeing these options can trigger eating at a faster than the body’s satiation signals can keep up. Basically, the body does not have time to tell the body that it’s full. One way to avoid this is to mindfully chew and eat more slowly. This could include chewing every bite 8+ times and setting your fork down after every bite. This “delay” in consumption helps the stomach register the amount of food consumed and gives it enough time to send the brain the right signals.
4. Avoid simple carbs.
Simple carbs like white bread and refined sugar are included in many holiday meals and treats; some in the form of breads and pastries, others in candies and carbonated drinks. While some simple carbohydrates are found in naturally occurring and healthier foods, like fruits and some dairy products, the body breaks these down quicker than complex carbs. This fast breakdown creates a spike in blood sugar that, in a very short period of time, results in a sugar crash. This sugar crash often causes hunger.
Since avoiding sugar-based foods is not realistic or ideal during this season, eating based on hunger and satiation signals is the best way to moderate overconsumption. There’s a reason the saying “everything in moderation” exists!
5. Use smaller plates.
Did you know using a smaller plate can trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more? Smaller plates can help you with portion control since using a smaller plate means a smaller empty space to fill with food. For instance, taking a small slice of cake can make it look bigger if it was placed on a small plate.
6. Moderate cravings.
Cravings are heightened with self-restriction, even for someone with incredible diligence, commitment or strong willpower.
It’s therefore sometimes beneficial to actually cave into cravings during the season, but with proper control and mindfulness. Mindless, rapid eating conducive to a binge after restriction can lead to excessive caloric intake.
7. Drink more water.
Dehydration and thirst are often mistaken for hunger. Before sitting down to a holiday meal, start with drinking two glasses of water and ensure you’re drinking water throughout that day. It may also be helpful to drink another full glass of water after your first plate of food. The time you take to drink this glass of water may also give your body more time to send your brain satiation signals.
8. Don’t get stressed.
Stress often creeps up on us during the holiday season – preparing for all the parties, being around family members, and more. This stress can prompt the body to want to eat. Why? Eating can cause a dopamine release that helps relieve stress. Even worse, stress eating is linked to higher consumption of higher calorie, sugary foods. Instead of eating, try exercise, a warm bath, or drinking herbal tea.
9. Get high quality sleep.
Sleep deprivation or inadequate sleep can lead to abrupt changes in appetite, prompting the body to eat even though it’s not really hungry. Not having enough sleep can lead to a feeling of lethargy throughout the day, so to fight this the brain prompts the body to eat foods that can act as an instant source of energy. These foods also happen to be high in refined sugars, and simple carbohydrates present in holiday pastries and desserts. To prevent eating for a perk-me-up effect, get as much sleep as possible.
10. Keep Notes.
Lastly, one of the most underrated ways to keep the weight off during the holidays is writing down the food you eat and reviewing the notes before every meal. Writing things down can help develop mindfulness and control over portions.
- The holiday season makes it hard to maintain your diet and fitness routine.
- You can curb your appetite by choosing the right type of foods and drinking water throughout the day
- Don’t skip your favorite foods, everything in moderation!
- Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861–867. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
- Tagliaferro AR, Levitsky DA. Overcompensation of food intake following brief periods of food restriction. Physiol Behav. 1982;29(4):747-50.
- Yau YH, Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013;38(3):255–267.