holiday cookies

An FRCC nutrition faculty member shares his advice for eating healthy over the holidays.

The holidays have arrived once again and many of us are planning a variety of events to celebrate the season! Invariably those events will involve, if not revolve around, tasty and tempting food and drinks, which may be distressing for those also wishing to manage their waistlines.

Despite all the hoopla there has been surprisingly minimal research on the topic of holiday weight gain. While anecdotal reports and surveys suggest that some people may gain five to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, one scientific study suggests the actual weight gain may be closer to a single pound!

While one pound certainly sounds better than five, the downside is that most people retain the weight gained at each holiday season, which over time adds up. Nonetheless, it is difficult to refute that our foodscape broadens dramatically over the next six to eight weeks and many of us would benefit from rewiring our holiday food intake.

Here are some suggestions that can help:

1. Eat Regular Meals—Even on Thanksgiving

Consume your normally scheduled meals on the days you will attend a holiday event. Skipping meals, although a common strategy for many, will likely result in overeating of high calorie foods at holiday events.

2. Go Veggie

fruits and vegetables

Fill up on salad and vegetable- and bean-based soups first before hitting the heavy calorie-laden entrees. You’ll put a dent in your appetite and get fiber and antioxidants to boot!

3. Moderate Alcohol Intake

If drinking alcoholic beverages, alternate with a non-caloric beverage. Not only will this reduce calories from alcohol, which are 7 calories per gram—research also suggests that alcohol impairs our judgment about our food intake, which can lead to significantly higher calorie consumption.

4. Move More

A brisk walk on your lunch hour or after a large holiday meal is a great way to offset some of the additional calories. And perhaps more importantly, it helps reduce the stress that accompanies this hectic time of year.

5. Weekly Weigh-Ins

Get on the scale once or twice a week to monitor what’s happening. This behavior is one of the year-round weight management strategies recommended by the National Weight Control Registry based in Denver, which tracks the behaviors and habits of successful weight losers.

6. Assess Your Hunger and Fullness

The message is simple: Avoid the extremes of getting overly hungry which leads to overeating and feeling uncomfortably stuffed! Assess where you are—on a scale of hungry to full—throughout the day and at holiday events. The University of California Berkely has created a simple-to-use hunger-satiety scale.

7. Utilize Multiple Strategies

Instead of incorporating just one holiday eating strategy, choose several of your favorite to incorporate over the course of the holidays to discover which one(s) work best for you. This study shows that utilizing a greater number of strategies is associated with less holiday weight gain.

8. Shift Your Focus Off Weight

As a former full-time nutrition consultant, I counseled many people who were setting weight loss goals for themselves during the holiday season. I invariably found these weight loss attempts to be unsuccessful.

Rather than focusing on weight loss during this time, I recommend shifting your emphasis to maintaining your current weight, which is a more realistic and achievable goal. Better yet, set yourself a non-weight related goal like lowering your blood pressure, blood sugar or blood cholesterol levels via healthier habits. Think of it as an end-of-year resolution!

Have another tip on how to curb calories or a healthy twist on a favorite holiday recipe? Please share!

I hope you all have a wonderful, healthy holiday season.

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