Packing a suitcase and traveling to visit family and friends during the holidays is a welcome activity for many. But there’s another type of packing that often comes without a welcome mat this time of year – packing on an extra pound or two or more of weight.
Although research says many Americans gain 1-5 pounds around the holidays, there are ways to take pleasure in the season and enjoy delicious foods without depriving oneself, according to Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Baptist Health South Florida.
Thanksgiving is the holiday most often associated with eating a large meal and feeling “stuffed.” Yet the 10-day stretch between the Christmas and New Year holidays is actually the most common time of year people gain weight, according to a study  published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nutrition experts like Ms. Kimberlain say gaining weight at the end of the year doesn’t have to be an annual event.
“The key is having a plan so you can avoid gaining weight,” Ms. Kimberlain said. “Just like the football teams who play games on Thanksgiving Day, having a game plan going into the holiday season that’s full of food-centered events can help avoid the trap of gaining weight this time of year.”
Holiday Food Planning
There are several strategies that can be used in situations that are food-focused, such as limiting the number of, or time spent at, holiday gatherings — or looking over all of the food offerings before deciding what you’ll eat, explains Ms. Kimberlain.
“Portion control and moderation are keys to success,” she said. “If you’re bringing a food item to a holiday gathering, be the one who brings a non-starchy item, like salad or freshly prepared vegetables. Then encourage family and friends to participate in movement-centered activities, such as playing a friendly game of football instead of sitting and watching football on TV.”
The annual Holiday Challenge, spearheaded by North Carolina State University, encourages participants to maintain their weight throughout the holiday season. A free online weight maintenance program, the Maintain, Don’t Gain! Holiday Challenge is offered from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. For the second year, the Florida Department of Health is teaming up with NC State to promote the seven-week challenge . Last year, Florida had the second-highest participation in the challenge, which involved 15,500 participants from all 50 states and 13 other countries.
Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain
Ms. Kimberlain offers other tips to help keep extra pounds away while enjoying holiday gatherings:
- Eat beforehand. A small, nutritious snack before the party will help take the edge off your appetite and allow you to resist hors d’oeuvres, reserving calorie intake for the meal.
- Set limits with yourself. If you’re invited to multiple holiday events, plan to eat a small portion at each one. Or, limit the number of events you attend, reducing the amount of times you’re presented with opportunities to overeat.
- Don’t linger around the food table. Move to another location that is less tempting.
- Maintain an exercise schedule. Try your best to keep up with regular physical activity, Ms. Kimberlain advises. Ten minutes of exercise is better than none. Make sure to fit in a workout the day of a party or event. Grab a friend and go for a walk, or schedule an exercise appointment with yourself, whatever works best for you.
- Be aware of emotional eating. The business of the holiday season can be taxing. And while getting together with family can be joyous, sometimes family gatherings can be stressful. Be aware of your stress triggers, and find an outlet other than food, such as a quick walk, deep breathing or calling a friend to talk.”Before you reach for food, ask yourself, ‘Am I going to feel better or worse after eating this?'” Ms. Kimberlain says.
- Move. It’s easy to do a lot of sitting when celebrating the holidays, but staying mobile can help ensure you’re not so sedentary. Schedule a walk after a holiday meal or play fun games with the kids.
“Holiday time does not need to be synonymous with weight gain,” Ms. Kimberlain said. “A holiday season free of gaining weight is attainable, especially if you spend less time focusing on food and instead embrace the time with family and friends.”