by Shelly Guzman, RD, CD
The cooling weather signals the holidays are near. For many people, it also coincides with the off season for exercise and training. Inevitably you’re going to encounter some tempting culinary challenges this time of year. Juicy meats, thick gravies, buttery casseroles and pumpkin pie are staples of the holiday season. Whether you’re an athlete or an occasional exerciser, it is not difficult to gain weight during the off season. The way to avoid excessive weight gain during this time of year, while still enjoying holiday traditions, is to have a plan of action. The following tips will help you to make healthful choices during the holidays and beyond.
Keep calories in mind:
Many people do not know how to reduce caloric intake when duration and intensity of exercise has decreased. Reducing the amount of calories you consume without depriving yourself is essential for weight maintenance. There is no reason to obsess about every calorie in and out. During the holidays when we are tempted by many high calorie foods, it becomes important to strategize. Try a few of these tips to help control portion size, hunger, and appetite.
- Scan the buffet to see what’s available, think about what you really want, then grab a small sized plate (think salad or appetizer size).
- Put sauces and gravies on the side.
- Go for a walk after the big meal.
- Drink lots of water. It’s filling and so good for you.
- Wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds.
- If you must have seconds, fill your first plate with veggies and fruits then go back for small helpings of richer fare.
- At each meal maintain a balance of protein, fat, and “good” carbohydrates (veggies, legumes, whole grains).
- Wait to have dessert 2 to 3 hours after your meal.
Remember that it is perfectly okay to indulge a little on special occasions. Acknowledge slip-ups but don’t think of them as failures and punish yourself by being overly restrictive or eating everything in sight. Get back on track as soon as possible.
Get involved in the kitchen:
By helping to prepare the food you can control what ingredients go into each dish and trim calories from any traditional holiday foods without sacrificing flavor. For example, substitute apple sauce for the butter and oil in baked goods, mash potatoes with low sodium chicken broth or olive oil instead of butter and heavy cream, and replace whole eggs with egg whites in breakfast items and baked goods. If you’re going to a party, bring your own healthy side dish or dessert to share.
Don’t skip meals:
Going to a party when you’re hungry means you’ll be more likely to give in to temptation and over-eat. Don’t try to save calories for the big meal by skipping other meals during the day. Keep your appetite and blood glucose under control by eating a small meal or snack (and drinking plenty of water) an hour or two before facing a holiday feast.
Be consistent with physical activity:
A reduction in exercise frequency often results in excess weight gain during the off season. It’s okay to take a short time off from training, but you should return to daily exercise as soon as possible. Be careful not to fall into an all-or-nothing mentality. If you normally train hard for 60 minutes but aren’t motivated during the holidays, try doing 30 minutes of light exercise. Short, easy workouts are much better than doing nothing. If all else fails, try speed shopping, parking far away from the store so you have to walk, or taking the stairs at the mall.
Keep alcohol intake in check:
Alcoholic beverages are often part of celebrations. Remember that alcohol contributes calories and can affect your plans for healthy eating by lowering inhibitions and stimulating appetite. To reduce alcohol consumption at gatherings, drink one glass of water after each alcoholic beverage. If you’re trying to avoid alcohol, volunteer to be the designated driver!
Enjoy the season:
Take the focus off the food and concentrate on people by spending time with family and friends or by helping out in the community at the homeless shelter or food bank. The real joy of the holidays has to do with connecting to and giving joy to others!