We all want to be jolly this time of year. What we don’t want, though, is a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly.
While the average person gains only 1 pound over the holidays, research shows that most of us never lose that pound. So by the time we’re in our 40s or 50s, we may weigh a lot more than we like. Holiday weight gain, sadly, is like getting a really bad present with no gift receipt.
The solution? Strive for a weight-neutral holiday. The goal at this time of the year isn’t to lose weight—it’s to not gain weight.
You can’t battle holiday weight gain without a game plan. If you’d like to keep yourself from developing a Santa Claus gut, you’ll need a strategy. Here are seven tips for eating healthy during the holidays to avoid putting on holiday pounds:
1. Make a point to move. Many of us are too busy during the holidays to squeeze in a trip to the gym every day. That’s OK. But don’t give up on exercise altogether. Walk the dog a bit farther in the morning, take a noon stroll while at work or head out on foot after dinner to check out the Christmas lights on your street. In fact, one study shows that walking 10 minutes three times a day can actually improve your health more than one 30-minute walking session.
2. Hydrate. Research shows that consuming about 16 ounces (two glasses) of water before a meal helped dieters eat fewer calories and lose 44% more weight over a 12-week period.
3. Fill up on good stuff. If you’re looking at a table full of appetizers and spot a platter of vegetables next to a cheese-and-cracker tray, make your first move a reach for the veggies. Research shows that people who ate fruits and vegetables tend to weigh less. If you follow these tips you will also be getting the nutrients you need for good health. One slice of red pepper, for example, contains about 25 percent of the vitamin C you need for the day.
4. Track your calories. If you’ve ever done this, you know how tedious it can be. But it’s also effective. Instead of popping that Hershey’s Kiss, you’ll think about the 22 calories it will cost you and how it would take the average person six minutes of walking to burn it off. Plus, apps like myfitnesspal have made tracking easier than ever.
5. Think before you drink. There are more than 300 calories in a cup of eggnog, while a glass of white wine comes in at only about 120 calories. Even better, include some festive (but low sugar) non-alcoholic drinks at your party like this citrus mock mimosa.
6. Recover quickly from a loss. Let’s be real. Even with careful planning, there will likely be at least one occasion over the holidays where you just blow it. Yes, you’ll drink the eggnog. And eat the cookies. And the ham. And then have some chips. For many of us, that can cause the classic “Oh, what the heck I’ve already blown it” reaction that leads to a few more days of eating with abandon. But if you do the math, how many extra calories did you really consume at that party? Almost certainly it was less than the number of calories required to put on a pound. (Avoid your scale, which may inflate your weight at such times due to water retention.) But you really can gain a pound or two if you keep up the unhealthy eating. The best plan? Get back on track with healthy eating the day after a splurge, but don’t skip meals or spend half your day on the treadmill.
7. Get enough sleep. Skimping on sleep makes it very hard to make good decisions. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were starved of sleep, late-night, high-carb snacking increased. Aim for seven to eight hours a night.