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Written by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

holiday weight gain
Photo Credit: Get Real Health

The holidays are a time of 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 back that 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. 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’ll be able to fully savor the holiday season and still move forward in your weight loss goals. Plus, when you maintain healthy habits, you’ll enjoy the holiday season so much more.

Whether your goal is to lose weight or just 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 ends up backfiring, because you’ll end up starving and will be more likely to overeat once you arrive at the party or dinner. 

Instead, eat as you normally 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.

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

2. Use Smaller Plates

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

Many people tend to eat more because there is food in front of them. If you’re using a larger plate, chances are you’re going to 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 instead for your main dish. You will be forced to put less on your plate and be more selective with the foods you choose. This trick can be especially helpful if you’re an honorary member of the “clean your plate” club.

Bottom Line: 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 backburner. But the truth is that during the holidays we all need 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.”

Bottom Line: 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 great, but it can also be draining at times. Even if you’re an extrovert, you still need alone time to recharge for your own 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.

For me, 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.

Bottom Line: 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, which can make it easy to blow your daily calorie budget. To help control calories, focus on eating your veggies first. 

The fiber and water content of vegetables fills you up on 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.

Bottom Line: Eat veggies first on your plate to fill up on less calories.

6. Keep Food at the Counter 

In the traditional family style way of eating, the food is placed right on the table. Instead of doing this, try putting your food platters on a kitchen counter or island instead.

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

Bottom Line: 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 that you really want which feel worth it to you. This may be a food you really like or one you 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 so much better too.

Bottom Line: 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 true hunger levels, which can set you up for success in any environment you’re in.

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 level of hunger can help you determine if you should keep eating, or if you should 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 you can use it during the holiday festivities.

Bottom Line: 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 backburner. However, this is probably one of the most important times to get your beauty rest!

If your neverending holiday to-do list is keeping you up, remember that there’s always tomorrow. Make a to-do list of your top 3 holiday priorities every day, so you don’t end up staying up until 1:00 a.m. trying to get it all done at once. There’s 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.

Bottom Line: Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep a night, 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 on these beverages can blow your calorie budget before you even have your meal.

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

For example, I’d much rather eat 300-calories worth of a chocolate dessert rather than on 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 either eat too much or make poor food choices that you wouldn’t make otherwise.

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

Learning how to prevent holiday weight gain weight gain during the holidays 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!