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After so much time apart, a lot of friends, families and colleagues are planning to gather this year to celebrate Thanksgiving, religious holidays and the new year. The centerpiece of so many gatherings is food, making this a challenging time of year to avoid unhealthy weight gain.
In addition to the heaping portions of food we're presented with, many of us struggle this time of year to fit exercise into our busy schedules. And many of us get stressed out by the logistics and commitments associated with holiday season, prompting us to stress eat. It's all a recipe for weight gain.
Fortunately, with some planning you can manage the holiday season without packing on too many extra pounds. Here are some tips to navigate the holiday season:
1. Be mindful of what you are eating, and learn to recognize a portion size. Common Thanksgiving meals include turkey, sweet potatoes, yams, gravy and stuffing. That's before you even get to desserts such as pecan or pumpkin pies. And depending on your religious traditions, your plate may be full of carb-laden or fatty foods during Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa. Then there's New Year's Eve, when many people drink calorie-rich alcohol or overdo it on appetizers while staying up until midnight.
With so much tempting food, it's important to be cognizant of the amount of fat, sugar and calories in what you eat and drink. Check nutrition labels when you can. Be mindful of the size of a serving. A portion of your favorite food may be much smaller than you'd expect.
1. When choosing side dishes, try to put at least one vegetable or fruit on your plate in place of something high in fat and calories. Many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which helps us feel full and lowers our blood sugar and cholesterol.
2. Find ways to modify recipes. In some recipes, mashed bananas or applesauce can be substituted for butter or oil. Try egg whites instead of whole eggs. Use low-fat whipped cream instead of full fat. Play with fresh herbs and spices instead of salt to lower sodium intake. Even a single substitution can go a long way.
3. Switch to a smaller plate. Our stomachs are about the size of a closed fist, but our plates are significantly larger than that. So many of us fill our plates this time of year, then get second helpings, and then get dessert. Though there's conflicting evidence regarding whether a smaller plate actually leads to weight loss, the approach may work for you. The appearance of a full albeit smaller plate may have you eating less!
4. Eat slowly. Eating quickly doesn't allow the body time to recognize that it is full, so you consume more calories before you reach the point of feeling satiated. Those extra calories get stored as fat. Take the time to savor your food; your waistline may thank you.
5. Don't fast then gorge. Some people think the trick to eating a big meal without gaining weight is to eat sparingly, if at all, beforehand. I don't recommend this approach. By the time you're ready to eat, your eyes will be bigger than your stomach, you'll eat faster, consume more and end up gaining weight. Fasting beforehand can slow down your metabolism, so any extra calories eaten during the big meal will be stored as fat. It's better to pace yourself throughout the day. Start with a light breakfast followed by a light lunch to keep yourself moderately satisfied. You want to have an appetite for dinner, but don't want to be so hungry that you overeat at the holiday meal. Fasting beforehand can slow down your metabolism, so any extra calories eaten during the big meal will be stored as fat.
6. Think about beverages. Limiting liquid calories can help promote weight loss. Soda, eggnog and many alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories. Choose water or calorie-free drinks instead. Water, in particular, has been shown to help promote weight loss. Water speeds the metabolism and makes us feel full, meaning we'll eat less.
7. Make time for exercise. As a rule of thumb, we recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, so rather than plopping down in front of the TV after a holiday meal, consider a short walk around the neighborhood either on your own or with your friends and family. Even a 15-30-minute walk can help burn calories and is good for overall health. Many communities have "turkey trots" on Thanksgiving Day. Those are also great to get out and moving. Throughout the holiday season, it's important to schedule time in your daily routine for exercise. Many people find that if they schedule and pre-plan the time, they are more likely to follow through. The benefits are worth it. Not only does exercise keep us fit and heart healthy, but movement also helps boost our mood and keeps stress in check.
8. Sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, so it's important to get adequate sleep each night. Many studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. People who stay up late tend to eat late at night, packing on pounds. Too little sleep can also lead to increased stress, and people tend to eat more when they are stressed. Be sure to get a good night's rest as often as possible.
Trying even one of these tips can truly help you manage your weight this holiday season, and these suggestions are applicable throughout the year. Be patient with yourself and recognize that developing a healthy lifestyle can take time. If you do overindulge, you can get back on track the next day.
About the author
Darren Young, DO, is a board-certified internal medicine physician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. He sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente Well Friendship Heights Medical Center.
Idaliz Ortiz is a Puerto Rican former multimedia journalist. She received a GLAAD award in 2017 for Spanish Programing - Special Feature, and was twice nominated for a Capital Emmy Award. She is currently the GWHCC Director of Marketing and Communications. Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org