Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with These 5 Simple Tips!

5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

As the holiday season approaches and days become shorter, we frequently find ourselves being less active and indulging in all sorts of calorie-dense foods. After all, holiday meals wouldn't be the same without some tasty empty calories followed by movie marathons.

Alas, the immutable laws of thermodynamics are unforgiving. When fewer calories are burned relative to calories consumed, weight gain ensues [1]. There's not much we can do to circumvent this inevitability.

And let's be honest: it's tricky to navigate all the festivities without giving into temptation, especially if your friends and family cajole you into trying their favorite dishes. But what starts as a single holiday meal on Thanksgiving can quickly instigate a month-long binge through the end of the year.

Naturally, many people wonder what they can do to avoid weight gain during the holiday season. We'll outline five practical tips to keep in mind as the New Year approaches.

Average Holiday Weight Gain: Myths vs. Facts

Once the New Year rolls around, many people quickly regret inadvertent holiday weight gain. But how bad is the damage from excessive holiday eating?

Research in recent years all but disaffirms the popular notion that most Americans gain 5-10 lbs between October and January. Based on empirical evidence, the average American only gains about 0.5 kg (~1.1 lbs) of weight during the holiday season [2, 3]. It's reasonable to assume most of this weight gain is not in the form of muscle mass, at least for sedentary adults.

While 1.1 lbs is not much in the grand scheme of things, holiday weight gain is rarely reversed during the spring and summer months. So, over the course of a lifetime, seemingly innocuous "holiday pounds" can add up.

It's not sensible to eschew holiday foods completely. A festive meal can bring friends and family together.  Follow the five tips below to savor the holiday season without unnecessary weight gain:

Use the "One-Plate" Rule

Most people falter during the holiday meals by going back for a second, third, or maybe even fourth plateful of festive foods. Portion control is crucial for preventing holiday weight gain.

To simplify the process, stick to the "one-plate" rule during each holiday meal. This tip is pretty straightforward: fill up your plate with a modest amount of any holiday treats you're craving, and don't go back for seconds after you're finished. (Note: this is not a challenge to stack foods on top of one another; it's whatever you can fit on the plate without turning it into a Jenga tower.)

Once the plate is full, that's your meal; meaning don't go back for a second or third or tenth plate of food afterward. If you want a small dessert after the main course, that's fine.

You'll notice your food cravings dissipate once you fill up a large plate and take your time finishing it all — this serves as an apropos segue into the next tip of eating slowly.

Eat Slowly — It's Not a Race

Skewed portion control is a major impetus of holiday weight gain, but eating too fast is another culprit (especially for individuals who usually restrict themselves to "clean" foods only). Remember that holiday meals are as much of a social event as they are a dining one; take your time and enjoy the company. If your sole focus is eating as much food as possible, you'll end up doing just that.

Chat with friends and family as you eat; it will help control your pace. In turn, your gut-brain axis will have the necessary time to coordinate satiety signals and curb the desire to overeat. When you eat quickly, there is a latency in satiety signaling; this is why competitive eaters train themselves to chew and swallow as fast as possible.

Drink Plenty of Water While Eating

Intuitively, drinking water/fluids is another way to increase satiety during and after eating. Liquids help emulsify food and facilitate the digestive process, which subsequently expands the stomach and gut to encourage fullness. Restricting your fluid intake will do the opposite.

As a rule-of-thumb, take a generous sip of water after every 5-10 bites of food. Assuming you're socializing and eating slowly, it should be easy to implement this tip.

Get Plenty of Sleep

There's no greater recipe for holiday weight gain than a short night of sleep followed by a day of stuffing your face with calorie-dense foods. You may be thinking, "One night of sleep loss can't make that big of a difference, can it?" Surprisingly, it can.

Even acute sleep loss negatively impacts appetite regulation and insulin sensitivity, making people liable to overeating and blood sugar swings [4]. Sleep deficit also typically leads to feelings of stress and lethargy, which is not conducive to weight control (let alone during the holiday season).

To support healthy weight management, aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night.

Don't Starve Yourself Before a Big Meal

Many fitness enthusiasts starve themselves (and do hours of cardio) before a big holiday meal in hopes of "making room" for all the extra calories. If you're running on fumes and walk into a kitchen full of sundry delectables, odds are you will give into temptation and overindulge. While it's a good idea to taper back your fat and carb intake a bit before eating a holiday dinner, starving yourself is not a healthy approach.

Such a restrictive mentality is counterintuitive since it creates a false sense of deserved binge eating. (And you better believe that eating 5,000 calories after a day of starving yourself is still likely to lead to weight gain.)

Instead, eat a few smaller meals during the day with a generous amount of protein and fibrous vegetables (or some fresh fruit). Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and the fiber in various vegetables and fruits will help reduce food cravings. Berries, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, and brussels sprouts are great options. You can also increase fiber intake easily by drinking a greens shake with TL Prebiotic Greens!

What to Do if You Overeat During the Holiday Season

Implement the tips mentioned above while enjoying the holiday season and all the delicious foods that come with it. Hopefully, you won't need a new wardrobe when January 1st comes around.

More importantly, do not beat yourself up if you gain weight during the holiday season. Doing so will only worsen the psychological stress of weight gain and contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Getting in shape and staying healthy are lifelong pursuits that depend on sustainable habits, not quick fixes or fads. If you gain five pounds unintentionally because of all the holiday eating, it's not the end of the world (unless you convince yourself otherwise). The best thing you can do is acknowledge it and get back on track with a proper diet and exercise regimen.

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