10 ways to avoid holiday weight gain

The holidays are quickly upon us with Halloween just around the corner, then it's just a few weeks to Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. This time of year seems like it is full of food temptations paired with a dose of holiday stress and colder weather, making us far less motivated to get out and exercise. It is definitely a perfect storm for weight gain. Although studies show that most people do gain some weight over the holidays, experts disagree on how much people gain during this time, with studies suggesting anywhere between one to ten pounds on average. Unfortunately, it seems that people who are already overweight tend to gain more than normal weight people during the holiday season.

Regardless of the disagreement in the research, most people gain at least a few pounds. Therefore, we should all be a little bit mindful of the potential for weight gain during the holidays and try to at least maintain our current weight. Knowing this, I spoke to some of my favorite fellow registered dietitians to give you some tips on how to avoid holiday weight gain this season.

Focus on seasonal favorites

There are so many foods available during the holidays that are not available at other times of the year, and you should definitely enjoy them. Want a piece of your grandmother's special pecan pie? Cut yourself a slice and enjoy it without guilt! Angie Asche, of Eleat Sports Nutrition, agrees. "Don't restrict yourself from foods you love. Instead, have these foods and avoid wasting room on your plate with extra foods you know aren't your favorites."

Allowing yourself a few special treats during this season can prevent overeating and help you save calories. But, be selective and stick to your holiday favorites. Survey the options before filling up your plate and pick two or three items you absolutely love, then fill the rest of your plate with healthier options.

Eat mindfully

Mindful eating involves paying attention to your hunger and fullness signals to prevent overeating. It is a great weight maintenance skill to develop because it allows you to listen to your body's signals. With so many temptations available around during the holidays, it can be hard to always be mindful of what you are eating. Lori Kupferman, dietitian at May I Health You, provided few suggestions on staying mindful: "Don't take a break from your health during the holidays, you need to make it more of a priority than any other time. The more mindful, intuitive, and prepared you are, the easier the holidays will be."

So, consider practicing ahead of time. Mindful eating involves eating when you are physically hungry and stopping when your body is satisfied, not stuffed or overly full. Set a goal of eating all your meals this way, paying attention to how your body feels as you are eating, and it will be second nature when you are faced with that amazing holiday feast.

Keep treats out of the house

If you are hosting a holiday party, you know the leftovers can last for days and you may find yourself noshing on some leftover pie long after your guest have gone. Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based dietitian has some ideas for you: "Keep tempting treats out of sight. Just seeing food can trigger the desire to eat. In one study, candy placed in a clear jar was eaten 50% faster than candy in opaque jars. The old saying is true: out of sight = out of mind."

Send your guests home with any leftover treats or bring them to work the next day, so they aren't around to tempt you. Keep your fridge stocked with healthy foods in between holiday parties, making it easy to stick to your goals.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables

The easiest way to cut calories without giving it much thought is to eat more fruits and vegetables. This is not just a good rule of thumb for the holidays, but for all-year-round. Fruits and veggies are full of water and fiber, both of which have no calories. So, you get to eat more food without the extra calorie load.

Amy Gorin of Amy Gorin Nutrition has some advice on adding more fruits and veggies to your holiday meal, "when you're at a party, don't try everything! Take a look at the food spread first, then only add the items to your plate that you feel you can't live without trying. Fill the rest with veggies and fruit!" Amy's suggestion allows you to enjoy yourself, but cut your calories in half by just adding extra fruit and veggies to your meal.

Stay active

Sometimes when we get super busy with holiday activities, exercise is the first thing that can go out the window. Shopping counts as cardio, right?

Jennifer Hunt, dietitian at Healthy Inspiration, suggests, "At the beginning of each week, look at your calendar and schedule in exercise. Determine, in advance, when you will exercise, what you will do and how long you will commit. Making activity a priority will help you boost mood, reduce stress, limit guilt, and balance out the yummy holiday treats."

Set a goal to maintain your weight

Janet Brancato, dietitian at My Nutopia, believes that the holidays may not be the best time to try to lose weight. Instead, she suggests, "You may not lose weight over the holidays but even if you hold your weight and coast through maintaining, that is okay. Keeping balanced is a way to enjoy the festivities without deprivation."

Consider letting go of any weight loss goals during this time and instead focus on maintaining your current weight. You can tackle any weight loss goals in the new year, just like everyone else.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Dehydration can make you think you are hungry, even when you are not. Therese Bonanni, dietitian at Navesink Wellness Center in New Jersey, suggests that you, "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When you think you're hungry because of all of the holiday aromas, edible gifts and advertisements, drink a glass of water or make a cup of herbal tea. Then decide if you're really hungry."

Staying hydrated can give you something to do during a holiday party, so you don't immediately dig right into the buffet. Also, having some water before eating can help you eat less overall. Water can also stave off some of the effects of alcohol. So, start every party with a large glass of water before jumping into all the food and fun.

Limit alcohol

Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, causing you to throw caution to the wind and overeat. It is also high in calories, which can add up fast over several hours at a party. Jean LaMantia, registered dietitian, recommends: "If you'd like to drink alcohol, try a white wine spritzer (white wine, soda water, lemon twist), it's a low cal drink and sip it slowly."

Finding a low-calorie drink and sipping it slowly over an hour or two can help you drink less overall, stay in control of what you are eating, and help you control how many calories you take in at a holiday party. Plus, drinking less means you're more likely to be able to wake up early for a good workout, instead of lounging in your PJs nursing a hangover.

Get plenty of rest

Holidays can be stressful between family visiting and all the items on your to-do list. Allowing yourself to get overly tired can lead to overeating. Elizabeth Ward, dietitian at Better is the New Perfect, suggests that you should "try not to get overtired. When you're sleep-deprived, you make poor choices because you just don't care. Lack of sleep also makes you hungrier. If you don't get enough sleep for weeks on end, you could be making choices every day that promote weight gain. Plus, you'll feel sluggish and you'll enjoy the season less."  Aim instead to take time out to rest regularly and get at least eight to ten hours of sleep a night. This will help you stay on track with healthy eating and reduce stress.

Reduce stress

Sleep, stress, and overeating all go hand in hand. When you are overly stressed and tired, you tend to not care about what you are eating or reach for items high in fat and sugar to soothe your frazzled nerves. When you don't sleep or eat correctly, your stress can go through the roof.

Dixya Bhatari, dietitian at Food, Pleasure, and Health, says that to manage stress during the holidays you need to "stay consistent with your routine as best as you can… eat your wholesome meal, stay hydrated, be physically active, and practice self care. I find that a lot of people stress out over holidays and give up on their daily routine which makes it hard to maintain weight and ever harder to get back to regular rhythm of things when holidays are over."

Let go of guilt

Most of us are going to overdo it at one point or another during the holidays, the important thing is to not let the guilt spiral us into a cycle of overeating. Stacey Mattinson, registered dietitian, says "One piece of pumpkin pie won't make you gain any weight just like one salad won't make you lose any, but noshing on leftover high calorie foods for days could pack on the pounds." 

One night of overeating won't lead to excessive weight gain, so if you do overindulge, just get back on track the next day with some type of exercise and a healthy breakfast. But, most of all forgive yourself. The holidays are a challenging time, and expecting perfection is just going to backfire.  

Enjoy yourself

The holidays come around once a year and are supposed to be fun, remember? There are plenty of things to get stressed out about other than your weight (ahem, visiting family members). Try to exercise, practice some self-care, and eat a few foods you enjoy. The new year will be here soon enough and you can focus on weight loss or other goals you might have. For now, take a deep breath and enjoy the season.