Holiday Weight Control: When the Food Is Too Delightful

Key Points

  • Holiday weight gain is common but avoidable with the proper steps.

  • Move around, use smaller plates, and stay busy to help yourself with weight control.

  • Weight control is not a one-size-fits-all plan and needs customization for each individual.

When the holidays roll around, it seems like everyone you know has suddenly become Betty Crocker. Everywhere you turn is a smorgasbord of homemade goodies — from chocolate babka to coquito to ginger snaps — and it's hard to pass up on all the delectables. Inevitably, the second-turned-third helping of mashed potatoes has you concerned about weight control around the holidays.

You don't have to overindulge to have a great time. In fact, holiday weight control gives you a sense of accomplishment, allowing you to enjoy family and friends much more. Read on to develop your strategy to combat weight gain during the most indulgent time of the year.

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

When the holidays hit, you skip workouts to spend quality time with your family. Getting your sweat on is traded for cocoa and fireside chats, rowdy games of Trivial Pursuit, and one-too-many sugar cookie cutouts. Since everyone brings their most decadent dishes to share, you also have more "cheat days" than any other time of the year. The bottom line is, though, that too much lounge time and not enough physical activity makes it more likely to gain unwanted holiday pounds.

U.S. Army Madigan dietetic intern 2nd Lt. Evan Tryon explains, "With the right mindset and self-regulation, weight gain around the holidays is preventable. … Hunger and a change in activity were the main components related to holiday weight gain. Not surprisingly, participants with increased hunger and reduced activity had more weight gain.

"Studies have shown weight gain during the holidays is attributed to increased stress, greater frequency of social gatherings with high-calorie food and drinks, and limited physical activity."

Being mindful doesn't mean you have to pass on all the holiday goodies. Use these 10 tips to enjoy the holidays while controlling your weight.

Tip 1: Move Your Body

The gym is closed, and your accountability partner is visiting family in another state, but that doesn't mean you have to remain sedentary over the holidays. As the family gathers, take note of the weather outside. When it's nice, ask someone in your family to go for a walk and chat, get fresh air, and burn some calories at the same time.

Just because you aren't participating in your regular workout doesn't mean you have to avoid all movement. Get up early and run on your treadmill. When someone turns on the football game, round up a few family members to experiment with yoga moves.

Your dog isn't going to walk himself; use your pet as an excuse for exercise as the day wears on. Exercise helps reduce holiday weight gain, and getting up and moving feels good. Your endorphins flow, and you feel even happier around your family.

Woman hiking with her family

Do simple exercises at home between conversations and snacks. Pump out some pushups and sit-ups on a bathroom break, or do leg lifts when cutting vegetables for the salad at the kitchen counter.

Find ways to move your body over the holidays, even if you change your regular workout routine. You'll feel better physically and mentally, and the activity helps you to burn off the extra foods you eat.

Tip 2: Use the Small Plates

There are dinner plates, and then there are dessert plates. Which to use? You want to sample everything, and that's fine, but keep the portions small. Use the small plate during dinner, which causes you to take only a little of each dish.

Small plates fit a large piece of pie, but how much turkey and stuffing do they fit? Place the salad items, fruits, and vegetables first. Make sure you get some protein on the plate as well. You won't feel deprived when you're having fun, laughing, and talking with your loved ones.

Using a smaller plate gives your body time to feel full before you stuff yourself silly. When you take food from the buffet line, etiquette says you must eat it. Taking less allows you to eat less. If you're starving when you finish what you took, return for more.

Big and small plate

Tip 3: Have a Plan in Mind

What are the tempting treats your family always serves for the holidays? Do you find yourself overindulging because you only see these temptations once a year? It would help if you had a plan to get you through the calorie-filled holiday haul.

Write out your plan, or at least think it all over, before your family gathers. Whether your weakness is cookies, cakes, pies, or candies, those items are present every holiday season. Plan to have a small slice of pie but nothing more, for example. If you want to return for more goodies, chew a piece of gum to satisfy your cravings.

When you think ahead, it’s easier to follow your plan. Flying by the seat of your pants means you may allow yourself one treat and then another and another as the day goes by.

Tip 4: Keep Track of Calories

No one enjoys counting calories; perhaps you go about daily life without worrying about the numbers too much. As the holidays hit, however, there are too many calories for your body to burn through regular activity. 

The best thing to do for your weight control is to count what you eat. Set a reasonable number for yourself and stick to it. When you reach that number, you're finished for the day.

Woman at holiday dinner table

Think of holiday calories like a bank account. You only have so much money in the bank to spend. When you reach zero, don't buy anything else. There's no such thing as credit when you think about calories! Figure out how many calories you want to use and start counting.

Try to spread your calories throughout the day. If you eat a huge breakfast and use everything you have up early in the day, your cravings spike later, which leads to overeating.

Tip 5: There's an App for That

There's an app for everything these days, including many for weight control. Look into options and see which app helps you the most with your goals. Download a fitness app that keeps track of your steps and workouts to inspire you to move more during the event. Enter the foods you've eaten to track calories and quickly determine how much fat is in certain items.

While downloading an app is a significant first step, you must actually use it to control your weight over the holidays. Read app reviews and testimonials to find the app that works well for your situation, eating habits, and routines.

Tip 6: Have an Accountability Partner

If no one sees what goes in your mouth, it doesn't count, right? That's not exactly how that works, but you might be more careful about eating if someone with similar goals supports you through the holidays. Whether it's a friend or family member, link up with someone who wants to maintain weight, just like you, and trade ideas and encouragement.

When you feel temptation hit, talk to that person about just how good the food looks and how much you want to eat until your stomach hurts. Accountability partners remind you of your goals and why you set them in the first place. Do the same for them and support each other through the most tempting time of the year.

Tip 7: Try a Fat and Carb Blocker

Everyone deserves to indulge a little over the holidays. Whether you love mashed potatoes, apple pie, or both, most people take in more carbs over holiday celebrations than on ordinary days. Consider trying a fat and carb blocker. These dietary supplements help you maintain weight during tempting holiday meals.

Group of friends during the holidays

Take a fat and carb blocker before or after you eat something with more fat and carbs than you're used to. You only want to take the blocker once daily, so time the dose correctly. The pill blocks 50 to 65 percent of the starches in your food. It's not a free pass, but it works to avoid too much weight gain when you eat more than usual.

In addition to blocking carbs and fats, the supplements suppress appetite, so you feel full faster. They also even out your blood sugar, so you don't get the spike and crash that often comes with too much, too fast.

Tip 8: Snack Right

There are big meals to handle, but your holiday hosts might serve snacks all day, every day as well. When everyone is sitting around chatting, watching the holiday parade on TV, and snacking, you feel left out with an empty plate. There's nothing wrong with snacking, but you need to do it right.

If you feel a snack attack coming on, grab mixed nuts for that salty craving. Those who prefer something sweet are better off with sliced fruits. Vegetables make for a satisfying crunch. These healthy snacks satisfy the craving and give you something to do. You get fiber and nutrients instead of empty calories that leave you seeking more food, fast.

Tip 9: Stay Busy

Have you noticed that you eat without thinking about it when bored? You don't have work and other daily tasks during a holiday gathering to keep you occupied. Plan your gathering so there are lots of activities to keep you occupied.

Holiday dinner spread

Set up a craft table for the kids and help them with the crafts. Spending time with the little ones is meaningful; their antics keep you busy for hours. Get out board games and entice family members to create memories with that kind of fun instead of sitting around with the TV on. If the weather is nice, organize a kickball game in the yard.

The busier and more distracted you are, the less you obsess about and give in to high-calorie foods.

Tip 10: Don't Worry About a Little Extra Bulge

You probably don't eat dessert after every meal on a typical day. The holidays bring extra temptations and treats. If you're able to keep yourself on the straight and narrow most other days of the year, it's okay to take in some extra calories over the holidays. The hard part is not to make a habit of it.

Holiday weight piles on fast but disappears when you return to your regular routine. If you plan to let yourself indulge over the holidays, don't worry about an extra pound or two. Simply enjoy time with your family. Then, once the holidays are behind you, get back into your diet and exercise routine, and watch the added pounds fade away quickly.

As long as you are good about weight control 95 percent of the time, it's okay to let loose the other five percent.

Family at dinner table during the holidays

What Kind of Weight Control Works for You?

If you have issues with your weight, losing weight and maintaining that weight loss feels like a lifelong struggle. You look at people who never seem to gain an ounce and wonder what they're doing that you're not. Keep in mind that each person is unique, inside and out. Some people have faster metabolisms than others, as unfair as that may be. You might have unbalanced hormones, making weight impossible to lose but easy to gain. There are many variables at play.

Those who seem to have it all together likely adhere to a consistent diet and exercise regimen. If you want to lose or maintain your current weight, you have to figure out what works for you. Exercise is good for everyone, but not everyone enjoys or chooses the same workout. What do you like doing? Design exercise routines around when gets you motivated so you stick to your long-term fitness goals.

Controlling your weight around the holidays is a worthwhile fitness goal. Keeping the yuletide bloat at bay goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of the coming year. Resist the urge to compare yourself with others and focus on what you can do to stay in control of your weight — and health — over the holidays. 

Looking for more tips on staying fit and working out? Visit Fit&Fab for tons of articles on running, working out, and thriving.

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