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Plan Ahead to Minimize Holiday Weight Gain

Oct 28, 2015

Holiday time will be here before we know it! Researchers have found that half of annual weight gain in the U.S. occurs during the holiday period. So, this is a sobering statistic in itself, but what makes it even more significant is the fact that most of this weight is retained indefinitely. People tend to lose a little bit in January when the holidays are over, but the rest of it sticks around. Even modest increases like this each year can add up over time. The average American gains between 0.5 and 1.75 pounds a year, measured at 10-year intervals is an increase by an average of 3.4 percent in men and 5.2 percent in women.

Knowing this, it is important for us to make a plan and NOT let this happen! Let’s look at how to prevent holiday weight gain.

First, let’s try to eat more simply. One of the biggest reasons people overeat during the holidays is because of the abundance of highly palatable and rewarding food. A food is palatable when it tastes good. A food is rewarding when it makes us want to eat more of it. Palatability and reward usually travel together, but there are exceptions. For example, most people think steak tastes good, but it doesn’t tend to encourage eating beyond satiety.

Choosing foods that are lower on the reward value scale during the holidays is one way of spontaneously reducing your calorie intake.

  • Don’t add additional fat to your food. Skip the gravy and don’t put butter on your mashed potatoes (if you’re making them yourself, use less butter or cream in the first place).

  • Don’t add salt or seasonings to your food.

  • Reduce the variety of flavors, textures and foods you eat. Choose a main dish and one or two sides and stick with that.

Another tip is to eat less. Ok, this is a no brainer. This one is easier said than done, right? The best way to accomplish this for most people is to focus on reducing the energy density of the food they consume. Energy density is defined as the number of calories in a given weight of food. Pick foods that are low on the density scale like fruits, vegetables and tubers. A holiday feast contains foods that are typically high on the energy density scale: stuffing, bread, pie, cream, butter, gravy, etc. Add extra vegetables to your plate. And don’t forget to chew your food thoroughly. This increases satiety!

Another trick? Move more! It is likely that physical inactivity helps prevent a decrease in the body fat. In the U.S., at least, holidays tend to be associated with a lot of TV watching, especially amongst sports fans. That means additional time sitting on your butt, which isn’t a particularly good way to burn calories. Go for long walks and add an extra workout session to your usual routine.

In addition to these strategies the following is worth a mention:

  • Manage stress. Stress can contribute to weight gain in several different ways, and the holidays are an inherently stressful time for many people. Make sure to set some personal time aside for rest, relaxation and leisure.

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation seems to be common over the holidays. This is problematic because studies have shown that poor sleep can increase appetite and caloric intake. Even a single night of poor sleep has been shown to increase appetite the following day.

  • Stay present. Emotional eating is common over the holidays. People tend to spend holidays with their families, and depending on your relationship with your family that can be joyful, aggravating or some combination of both. For some, eating can be a way of numbing the discomfort that arises. If this happens to you, here’s a suggestion. Put your phone on silent/vibrate and set a countdown timer for 20 or 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, check in with yourself and notice how you’re feeling and what you’re doing. Are you eating? If so, are you actually hungry? No judgment; just observation. Then set the timer again

  • Be careful not to drink all your calories. Alcohol can contain a lot of calories but will not fill you up like a meal would. In fact, people tend to be less mindful of what they’re eating when drinking is involved.


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