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Written by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

holiday weight gain
Photo Credit: Get Real Health

The holidays are a celebration full of family, friends, and festivities. But, it’s all too easy to overindulge during this time, and before you know it, you’re starting to gain the weight you worked so hard to lose. But, you can learn how to prevent holiday weight gain with a few simple steps.

Is it normal to gain weight around the holidays? Absolutely! There are a lot of temptations and things working against the best of your intentions, so don’t beat yourself up if this has happened to you. Maybe you’re itching to try all the decadent food, have less time to exercise, or find yourself emotionally eating from stress.

But, with a few simple tips and tricks, you can fully savor the holiday season and still move forward in your weight loss goals. Plus, you’ll enjoy the holiday season so much more when you maintain healthy habits.

Whether your goal is to lose weight or maintain your weight this holiday season, I got you covered.

Here is how to prevent holiday weight gain in 10 easy steps.

1. Don’t “Save” Your Calories

Many people “save” their calories for the big holiday meal or dinner out by skipping meals or eating less earlier in the day. This attempt to eat less actually backfires because you’ll end up starving and more likely to overeat once you arrive at the party or dinner. 

Instead, eat as you usually would during the day and stick to a consistent meal schedule. In doing this, you’ll feel much more in control once the festivities ensue.

Takeaway: Eat regular, balanced meals before the big meal instead of “saving” your calories.

2. Use Smaller Plates

Another strategy to prevent holiday weight gain is related to your plate size.

Many people tend to eat more because food is in front of them. If you’re using a larger plate, chances are you will fill that plate and then be tempted to finish what’s in front of you.

Instead, try using a smaller plate, such as a salad or appetizer-sized plate for your main dish. You will be forced to put less on your plate and be more selective with your chosen foods. This trick can be especially helpful if you’re an honorary member of the “clean your plate” club.

Takeaway: Use a 9-inch salad plate for your meals to make portion control a breeze.

3. Stay Active

If you’re wrapped up in the holiday to-do’s, you may find exercise keeps falling to the back burner. But the truth is that during the holidays we all need to exercise more than ever.

Keeping up with your exercise routine can motivate you to eat well and help lessen holiday stress. If you don’t have long chunks of time, aim for shorter workouts most days of the week. When you exercise more regularly, your mindset will stay positive, and those wondrous endorphins will stick around longer. 

You can also make exercising an opportunity to connect with family and friends, and a healthier alternative to meeting up for drinks and noshing on cookies. Even 10-minute “chunks” of exercise can be beneficial, and it doesn’t have to be a 30-minute workout to be “worth it.”

Takeaway: Keep active most days of the week during the holidays to reduce stress and motivate yourself to eat well.

4. Make Time for Yourself

You may be socializing more during the holidays, which is excellent, but it can also be draining at times. Even if you’re an extrovert, you still need time to recharge for your well-being.

If you don’t recharge, you may find yourself burning out, and then rummaging through the pantry looking for sweets to calm the stress or provide quick energy.

I feel best when I take the time to read or run alone. I’m always a better mom when I take the time to recharge.

Takeaway: Take at least 10 minutes for yourself every day during the holiday season (and every day thereafter!) to do something that relaxes you, such as reading, meditating, or going for a morning walk. 

5. Eat Your Veggies First

High-calorie foods abound during the holidays, making blowing your daily calorie budget easy. To help control calories, focus on eating your veggies first. 

The fiber and water content of vegetables fills you with minimal calories, making it a great food to control portions. Whether it’s cooked vegetables or a salad, eat at least a cup of veggies before your higher calorie foods to help you to eat less overall.

Takeaway: Eat veggies first on your plate to fill up on fewer calories.

6. Keep Food at the Counter 

The food is placed right on the table in the traditional family-style way of eating. Instead of doing this, try putting your food platters on a kitchen counter or island instead. We started doing this a few years ago with my in-laws, and it really helped with portion control and was also more manageable for the host to set up!

Setting it up this way makes it inconvenient to grab for seconds, as the food is not right on the table in front of you. And don’t forget those smaller plates I mentioned earlier!

Takeaway: Keep food on the counter instead of at the dinner table to make it harder to grab for seconds.

7. Choose Your Food Wisely

Instead of grabbing everything, choose a few items you want that feel worth it. This may be a food you like or haven’t had in a while. This helps prevent you from wasting calories on food you don’t care about.

Being selective in this way will make it easier to maintain your weight, and you’ll also feel physically better so your festivities are more enjoyable.

Takeaway: During your holiday festivities, pick 3-5 of your favorite foods that feel the most worth it to you, so you’re not wasting calories on food you don’t care about.

8. Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the act of eating with awareness and can be a very useful strategy to support weight loss. I often teach my clients mindful eating even before they start what they’re eating. This is because when you eat more mindfully, you’re more aware of your actual hunger levels, which can set you up for success in any environment.

Especially during the holidays, mindful eating can be extremely helpful when you may be tempted to overeat. Something as simple as checking in with yourself to assess your hunger level can help you determine if you should keep eating or do something else instead.

When you’re enjoying holiday parties and socializing, it’s often easy to eat while distracted and forget to do these self-check-in’s. If you’re new to mindful eating, start tracking your food, mood, and hunger levels with a simple app like Ate. This can help mindful eating become more of a habit so that you can use it during the holiday festivities.

Takeaway: Assess your hunger level before and after each meal to prevent mindless overeating.

9. Prioritize Sleep

With all the business of the holiday season, sleep often goes on the back burner. However, this is probably one of the most critical times to get your beauty rest!

If your neverending holiday to-do list keeps you up, remember there’s always tomorrow. Make a to-do list of your top 3 holiday priorities every day, so you don’t stay up until 1:00 a.m. trying to get it all done at once. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you’ll be much more productive with your tasks if you get at least 7 hours of quality shut-eye.

Set a “wind down” alarm on your phone 30 minutes before you want to go to bed every night, to remind yourself to stop what you’re doing and start a relaxing routine such as reading, meditating, or taking a bath before you drift off to sleep.

Takeaway: Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep and establish a relaxing nighttime routine.

10. Limit Liquid Calories

During the holidays, high-calorie beverages such as cocktails, soda, sweet coffees, and other alcohol may be more prevalent. Overindulging in these beverages can blow your calorie budget before you even have your delicious meal.

When it comes to liquid calories, moderation is key. It’s also helpful to ask yourself if those liquid calories are genuinely worth it, or is it more satisfying to enjoy that same amount of calories in a whole food?

For example, I’d much rather eat 300 calories of a chocolate dessert than a soda. It’s helpful to ask yourself what feels worth it to you, so you’re not consuming empty calories simply because they’re available.

Especially when it comes to alcohol, overdoing it can cause weight gain pretty quickly. The reason for this is twofold – alcohol is high in calories and sugar, but it also may cause you to either overeat or make poor food choices that you wouldn’t make otherwise.

Takeaway: If you choose to consume liquid calories, stick to 1-2 calorie-containing drinks like soda, sweetened coffee, and alcohol per day.

FAQs

1. Is it normal to gain weight over the holidays? Yes, many people gain weight around the holidays, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, any level of weight gain can make it feel more challenging to get back on track post-holiday. Continuing to stay active and practicing moderation through the holiday season can reduce the risk of weight gain.

2. How quickly does holiday weight come off? On average, most people lose about half of their holiday weight within a month after the holidays. However, according to one study, it can take up to 4-5 months for many people to lose all the weight.
3. How can I reverse my holiday weight gain? You can start to tackle holiday weight by getting back to a regular exercise routine you’ll stick to, focusing on balanced meals and limiting alcohol and sweets, and prioritizing quality sleep.
4. How do you beat holiday weight gain? You can beat holiday weight gain by staying active, practicing portion control and mindful eating, and reducing stress by cutting down on things you don’t need to do.

Learning to prevent holiday weight gain may feel challenging, but it’s not impossible. With these simple diet and lifestyle tips, getting back into a groove in the new year will be a walk in the park.

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Happy holidays!