Healthy Lifestyle Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

How Not to Gain Weight Over Holidays

Do you worry about your weight during the holiday season? If so, you’re not alone – a whopping 42% of Americans set New Year’s resolutions to lose weight at the beginning of 2020.

Chances are, you’ve got some weight-loss (or maintenance) goals on your mind for the holidays. But what’s the best way to go about achieving your weight goals? Healthy lifestyle changes!

Unbeknownst to you, you’re likely influenced by diet culture – a diet-centered mentality around weight loss pushed along by influencers and social media celebrities. These people may tell you a diet is all you need to stave off weight, especially around the holidays; what they don’t tell you is average weight gain during the holidays is only one pound, and diets don’t work!

Unlike diets, lifestyle changes provide you with a sustainable framework for your life. They help make your life more manageable and lead to more long-term health benefits than diets. Are you not convinced? If you are among the 42% of the population who has set a weight-loss goal for the new year, you have a 4% chance of achieving your goal. This holiday season may be the time to adjust some of your habits if you want to see a change in your weight or prevent holiday weight gain.

10 Tips to Maintain Weight During Holidays

Don’t ‘save calories’. You may think ‘saving’ up for the holiday dinner will help you cut calories, but this generally doesn’t work. When you’re not adapted to a short eating window and miss your usual meals, your blood sugar dips down, and your cortisol levels increase, which means you’ll feel more stressed and tired – hello cranky party guest! You’ll also be super hungry when you show up to that holiday dinner, and you’ll be more likely to eat more than your daily caloric needs. 

Tips to avoid holiday weight gain

Practice mindful eating and snacking. Whether it’s a candy cane from the Christmas tree, a tasty piece of rugelach, or another plate of appetizers while chatting with a colleague, mindless eating runs rampant during the holiday season. You’re more likely to eat more food at social gatherings, a fact that can leave you feeling uncomfortably full and farther away from your weight loss goals. To combat this, try taking one ‘mindful bite’ at every meal or snack during the holidays to help you slow down and enjoy your food. A mindful bite uses all your senses: Pay attention to the food’s appearance, give it a smell, pick it up, and see what texture it has. Then take a bite and notice how the texture changes as you chew it. This small exercise keeps you present when you start eating and can serve as a reminder to pay attention to portions.

Pay attention to hunger cues. If you want to avoid overeating during the holidays, pay extra attention to your hunger cues. Visualize a hunger/fullness scale to get in tune with your signals. On the hunger/fullness scale, one means your tank is empty, and you’re starving; a ten means your tank is disgustingly full – maybe you feel bloated and unwell. Ideally, your hunger will fall between a four and a seven where you’re either feeling slightly hungry, satisfied, or comfortably full; in this range, you’ll be less likely to over-or under-eat. Is your stomach grumbling with painful hunger pangs? You’re probably due for a bigger meal. Do you feel comfortably full? Maybe you’ll wait a little longer before you decide to have seconds.

Be intentional with meal times. The holiday season may give you extra time to relax, which could mean you eat more meals on the couch while you watch a movie or snack in bed more often than you’d like to admit. When you eat in situations like this, you’re more likely to eat mindlessly, which means you’re more likely to overeat; this can mean weight gain! Be intentional with meal times and avoid eating at your work desk or while watching TV. You may benefit from setting some definite rules for yourself, such as, ‘I will only eat meals if I am sitting at the table.’

Eat balanced meals. To maintain a healthy weight during holidays, continue to eat balanced meals. The holidays are notorious for carb-heavy, nutritionally empty foods that lead to weight gain. Instead, aim for meals with the right balance of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, and some complex carbs. Balanced meals will help you stay full longer, and you’ll be less likely to overeat.

Have a snack before heading to a party. If you’re worried you may overeat at a holiday gathering, try to have a snack before you head over. Make sure the snack is nutrient-dense, such as a cheese stick and some nuts; fat and protein-rich snacks will help you feel satiated and may deter you from over-indulging in appetizers or finger foods at the party.

Use physical cues to stay present during meals. Physical cues can help you avoid the mindless eating that usually goes along with social gatherings. You may choose to have one small plate of appetizers and throw that plate out once you’ve finished them to remind yourself not to go for a second plate. Or maybe you finish your dinner and place the napkin on your plate when you’re through. Physical actions can be discreet yet powerful reminders to pay attention to your hunger cues when eating with others.

Stay active. The holiday season is a time to slow down from your typical life activities (such as work or school), but it doesn’t mean you should be inactive. Physical activity is an essential part of maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. Try to get a minimum of 20-minutes of heart-pumping exercise four to five days per week, even during the holidays. Ask your cousin to hit the gym with you, or grab a buddy to play some tennis, or go on a brisk walk around the neighborhood! Aerobic activity will help keep your heart healthy and burn some calories.

How to maintain weight during holidays

Pay attention to your cravings. If you have a craving, it may be because you haven’t eaten in a while. If so, you’re probably hungry and should honor the urge. But if your appetite isn’t hunger-based, give yourself some time. Do something else for 15-minutes to get your mind off the food you crave. Check the mail, sweep the kitchen, or find someone with whom to start a conversation. After fifteen-minutes, do you still crave the food? If so, have one serving to be mindful of your craving, then get on with your day.

Practice intermittent fasting. There’s no time like the holidays to jump into intermittent fasting! Unlike many fad diets, IF promotes weight loss, among many other benefits. A method such as the 16:8 method can be beneficial during the holiday season; it allows you to still have three meals in the day (if that’s your preference) and can include some of those sweet treats you love. As with any lifestyle choice, balance is essential. But IF may be one of the best practices you use over the holidays to help keep your weight in check. 

Use these tips to avoid holiday weight gain, but continue to use them throughout the new year! Each of these tips can be a sustainable addition to a healthy lifestyle to help you stay healthy, happy, and on track with your weight goals.

Author's bio

Grace Engels, RD

Grace Engels, RD

Grace Engels is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in the Greater NYC Area. She completed her undergraduate coursework and requirements to sit for the RDN exam (including 1400 hours of supervised practice) at Cornell University. Grace keeps busy with three main jobs: Clinical ...