For many people I counsel, the downward spiral of holiday overeating starts at Halloween and ends on New Year’s Day, typically with a vow to undo the damage and get back on track again. But the truth is, it’s much, much easier to fend off weight gain than it is to shed “padding” you’ve put on. For example, to prevent adding a pound to your frame, you can skirt an extra 500 calories seven times, but to melt off that same pound, you’d have to man the elliptical for about seven hours.
This holiday season, take the proactive path, and adopt some strategies that will keep unwanted pounds at bay. Here are simple tactics to put into action today, so you won’t be busting out of your favorite jeans come January.
Select your splurges carefully
Whether it’s treats at the office or desserts at family gatherings, it’s easy to overdo the indulgences. But when I talk to my clients about what they’ve eaten and the circumstances, most admit they wound up eating things that were just “so so” simply because they were there. In others words, looking back, many of the goodies they downed weren’t worth gaining weight or having to spend extra time at the gym. The solution: scan all of your options, then only reach for completely worthwhile can’t-live-without favorites. With this reasoning, you’ll probably eliminate hundreds of surplus calories–without at all feeling like you’re “dieting” or depriving yourself.
Bring a “safety” dish to gatherings
On Thanksgiving or other holiday dinners you’ll attend as a guest, take a dish to share, but choose something that will help balance out heavier holiday cuisine. One of my favorites is a roasted veggie platter (like peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onion, baby Brussels sprouts, and asparagus, lightly misted with herb-infused extra virgin olive oil) with Mediterranean olives, or the good old standby raw veggies and hummus. Filling your plate with this healthy fare will easily allow you to take smaller portions of (or even skip) calorie-laden casseroles and side dishes.
Ditch the liquid calories
I know you’ve heard it before, but this move is by far the easiest way to prevent weight gain any time of year. Beverages like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, and punch, which are often served at holiday gatherings, aren’t filling. That means you won’t compensate by eating less, so you’re just tacking excess calories onto your meal. To keep it festive and naturally calorie free, stick with sparkling water, doctored up with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds, slices of blood orange, or sprigs of fresh mint. Compared to soda, you’ll save about nine teaspoons of sugar per 12 ounces, an amount that would require an additional 20 minutes on the treadmill.
Don’t “save up” for big meals
It may seem logical to skimp all day if you want to splurge at night, but that practice is actually a recipe for weight gain–in fact, it’s a technique sumo wrestlers use to bulk up! In a nutshell, your body can’t retroactively burn calories. So if your body needs fuel and you don’t eat, you’ve missed the boat, and your metabolism will slow down to compensate. Then, if you eat more than your body needs in the evening, you’ll simply shuttle the surplus straight to your fat cells. To prevent this too little/too much dynamic, space your meals pretty evenly throughout the day. And when you do have a heavier meal, step up your activity a bit in the hours after eating.
Up your post-meal activity
Rather than sitting to socialize after dinner, grab a friend or family member you’d like to catch up with, and take a 15 minute stroll. In addition to burning off some of your meal, one recent study found that this technique helped to normalize blood sugar levels for up to three hours after eating, even walks at an easy-to-moderate pace. If the weather is too chilly to go outside, get moving indoors. Volunteer to do dishes, stand while you talk, or organize an active game – either high tech (Wii) or old school (charades).
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.