Whenever the holidays come around, the women I work with start coming to me in anticipation of the massive meals and sugar overload they’re about to go through. I generally notice one of two mentalities about the impending food doom: either a feeling of anxiety and panic over what’s going to happen when their healthy eating and lifestyle plan goes out the window, or a feeling of defeat and resignation over the coming weight gain that seems inevitable.
I am here to tell you that there is a way to stay on track with your health and weight loss goals over the holidays, and it doesn’t involve sacrificing any of the things we love most about this time of year!
First of all, I want to make sure that nobody thinks it’s the end of the world if they indulge in a treat or two over the holidays. But the truth is, when you’ve been working hard to make positive dietary and lifestyle changes in order to meet your weight loss goals and enhance your overall health, you don’t want to feel like it’s all going out the window because of a few holiday dinners.
I think it’s really important to have a plan and be intentional about how you’re going to stay on track with your health goals over the holidays. We often feel like we have no control over our food consumption and weight during this time, and that’s the feeling I want to help with. There are plenty of ways to make smart, healthy decisions for ourselves over the holidays, regardless of what the people around us are doing. And we can make these decisions while remaining gracious, enjoying ourselves and our company, and enjoying our food!
10 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays
These are the top 10 strategies I use and recommend for staying on track with your weight loss and overall health goals during the holiday season.
1. Set (realistic) intentions
One of the most important things to do when you have a goal, whether it’s to lose weight, increase your energy, or be healthier overall, is to set specific goals and intentions for yourself. What is your ideal weight? Which things do you want to do every day to help move you closer to that goal? Around the holidays, it’s normal for things to change a little, so it’s a good idea to set new, specific intentions for that time– and make them realistic. Chances are, you will consume more “treats” than usual around the holidays. And that’s okay! But ask yourself which indulgences you are and aren’t okay with, and set clear intentions for how you will (mostly) stay healthy over the holidays. If you do this, you will be less likely to let absolutely all of your rules (and your goals) fall out the window.
2. Speak up
One of the hardest parts of staying healthy over the holidays is the guilt we tend to feel when we say “no” to something, or the hesitation to make special dietary requests of our hosts. This comes from a good place, but nobody should be guilted into eating something that they don’t want to eat or that they know will have negative health consequences for them! If you’re at a family function or an event where something full of sugar, refined flour, or something else that you don’t want to eat is being served, don’t be afraid to just say “no”– or to take a very small serving. And if your host asks about your dietary preferences and restrictions before an event, be honest! Trust me– they’re asking because they want you to have a positive experience, and enjoy your meal. I actually think that if we all spoke up more about what we do and don’t eat and why, we would find that many people around us were in a similar place!
3. Stick to routines where possible
Chances are, some elements of your healthy eating plan are going to fall out the window when you’re at a big holiday dinner. And a few indulgences here and there over the holidays are really nothing to worry about. Trouble is more likely to arise when the whole routine goes out the window: not only are we eating a serving of pumpkin pie with whipped cream after a massive dinner, but we’re too busy to exercise, too stressed to sleep, and too preoccupied to remember to prepare a healthy breakfast. Remember that it’s not all about food– things like sleep and stress play a huge role in healthy weight loss! So, if you know you’re going to be eating a meal that’s more indulgent than usual, accept it, and focus instead on the parts of your healthy routine you can maintain, from a full night of restful sleep to a few minutes of meditation in the morning.
4. Bring your own food (or host the meal!)
The best way to have control over what you’re putting into your body is to prepare your own food. While it’s certainly welcome to have a break from cooking when you’re invited to family and social events over the holidays, if you know that the desserts tend to be a little overly sugary at a certain relative’s house, you can always volunteer to bring the dessert yourself– and decide just what’s going to go into it. And, of course, hosting a meal yourself is a great way to help yourself– and everyone else– eat just a little bit better.
5. Plan some fun, outdoor activities
I totally get it… nobody really wants to go to the gym over the holidays. As much as possible you want to relax, have fun, and spend time with your loved ones– and you should! So, if the gym is out, consider what kinds of fun, active, preferably outdoor activities you and your family and/or friends might be able to participate in together. From skiing or skating (depending on how cold it is where you are!) to hiking a new trail, there is something for everyone, and really, exercise is best when you’re having fun.
6. Focus on quality time with friends & family
On that note, here’s a quick reminder that the holidays are about spending quality time with those you love: your family, your friends, and yourself. Focus on that, and expend less energy on worrying about food and about your weight. Keeping your healthy eating and lifestyle guidelines in mind is good, but try to avoid panicking about the number on the scale, especially at this time of year.
7. Drink less alcohol (and more water!)
I know I said that a few indulgences are okay over the holidays, and I meant it! But if there’s one area where I would really encourage less indulgence, it would be with alcohol. A glass of wine here and there with dinner is okay, but those glasses of wine can really add up over the holidays. Alcohol can get in the way of healthy weight loss, make you eat more than you want to, and interfere with your sleep, to name a few. As much as possible, opt for a glass of water rather than a glass of wine (or your alcohol of choice). Water will, of course, help you to stay hydrated, might help you not to eat when you’re not hungry, and will play a huge role in keeping you healthy over the holidays.
8. Eat mindfully!
A big part of why it’s common to gain weight over the holidays has to do not only with what we eat, but how much we eat. Especially if you’re distracted or immersed in conversation, it’s easy to forget how many times you’ve said “okay, just one more”. Introducing mindfulness into eating over the holidays is a great way to make sure that you’re only adding to your plate if you’re actually hungry. You will still get just as much enjoyment out of the food– but less of the bloating and exhaustion! Start by making an effort to chew your food thoroughly and consciously, and by asking yourself why you’re reaching for another helping of dessert. A little bit of awareness goes a long way.
9. Make space for stress reduction
Stress and weight gain or weight loss resistance are linked, and the holidays can be a major source of stress. I think it’s so important to remember to make time and space for yourself in the middle of the chaos, whether it’s a much-deserved gift to yourself like a day at the spa, or just taking a few extra minutes after a family function to curl up with a good book. In fact, I think the busier we are, the more important it is to carve out the time for stress reduction. Your digestive system will thank you, and I promise you will feel better overall.
10. Load up on the healthy stuff
When everyone around you is snacking and stuffing their faces, it can be hard not to join in. So fill up on the healthiest options you can find! Keep healthy, enjoyable snacks like almonds on hand at all times. Try to avoid refined sugar as much as possible, and look for the fresh, whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. Healthy, fiber-rich foods will help to keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer, and you’ll be a lot less likely to feel bad at the end of the night.
BONUS: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Here’s another reminder not to beat yourself up over a slice of pie. Along with mindfulness, awareness, and intentionality, work some self-forgiveness and acceptance into your holiday eating plans. I think the biggest overeating issues come up when we eat out of obligation, guilt, or boredom. If you have thought about it and you really want to eat a “treat” that’s not normally on your diet, because you know that you will enjoy it and you’ve been going nonstop over the holidays, then it can be totally fine to let yourself have it. Do what you are comfortable with. And remember: stress contributes to weight loss resistance too! So as much as possible, just let it go.
I hope that, armed with these strategies, you can enjoy the holiday season with a little less worry, and a little more joy. I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy holiday season!
And if you want to get a jumpstart on your weight loss goals, I’m here to help! I’ve successfully helped women just like you lose unwanted weight naturally without the use of drugs and their unpleasant side effects. Learn to love yourself and your body, feel comfortable in how you look, and transform your health – all in my Women’s Transformation Weight Loss Program. Get started now!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD