For many people, trying to diet during the holidays is like trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for Aunt Edna: almost impossible. No diet pill or weight loss program can overcome the irresistible draw of fudge, eggnog and candy canes. So what’s a weight watcher to do? Is there any hope for holiday weight loss, or are we destined to add some more pounds before the inevitable New Years resolution?
Conventional wisdom is that most people gain from five to ten pounds of fat during the holidays. Happily, that much at least appears to be false. However, Americans do tend to gain some weight during this time of year: “Previous studies suggested that Americans gain an average of 0.4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives” (source: nichd.nih.gov). What’s alarming is that although we’re putting on fewer pounds during the holidays than we had previously thought we’re not taking that extra weight back off.
“Researchers now say they have some good news for us — and some bad news. The good news? Most of us gain less weight over the winter holidays than we think, only one pound on average. The bad news? We never take it off” (source: archives.cnn.com).
Dr. Yanovski has conducted extensive research on weight gain. “Although an average holiday weight gain of less than a pound may seem unimportant, that weight was not lost over the remainder of the year, Dr. Yanovski said. When 165 of the study volunteers were weighed a year after the study began, they had not lost the extra weight gained during the holidays, and ended the year a pound and a half heavier (1.4 lb) than they were the year before” (source: nichd.nih.gov).
Permanent holiday weight gain isn’t a pleasant thought for most of us, especially since the number one New Year resolution is fast weight loss. As reported by mygoals.com, 80 percent of Americans made a New Year resolution in 2005. A whopping 26 percent of those resolutions were to improve overall health and fitness, making this the top category for self-improvement. This year was no anomaly, either, according to Amy O’Connor, deputy editor of Prevention magazine: “Fifty-nine million people every year resolve to lose weight.”
So what can we do to maintain some degree of weight control this season? Is there anything we can do to stick to our weight loss plan, or perhaps even achieve some quick weight loss, in the midst of all that Christmas cheer?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. But it will require a two-pronged approach. First, we need to maintain a healthy diet plan despite all the holiday temptation. Second, it is absolutely critical that we keep exercising throughout the Yuletide season. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some diet information that may help us maintain our ideal weight this year.
-> Healthy Holiday Food Tips:
1) At holiday parties, provide or bring veggie trays instead of traditional meat and cheese platters, which are much higher in fat. Reduced fat salad dressing makes a great veggie dip, and when used in place of the full-fat version will save you at least 70 calories per serving.
2) When it comes to holiday desserts, replace the typical pies with fruit or yogurt parfait.
3) Cut back on alcoholic drinks and drink water, fruit juice or diet soda instead. An 8-ounce eggnog with rum contains 450 calories, about 25 percent of what the average woman should have in an entire day! The average alcoholic drink contains 150-200 calories per glass. Not only does alcohol pack a lot of empty calories, but over-consumption lowers inhibitions and self-control…..not a good combination when you’re near the buffet table!
4) Be sure to eat a healthy, high-protein snack before going to that holiday party or dinner. The protein will help you feel full longer and stabilize blood sugars. You’ll be less likely to binge, and overall calorie consumption will fall.
5) It seems that at every holiday party there is a group that congregates near the buffet table to talk. Don’t be part of that group!
6) Out of sight is out of mind. If you have a stockpile of Christmas candy at home (only for guests, of course!), hide it in a cupboard. You’ll be much less likely to graze on it throughout the day. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter instead.
7) Avoid temptation. If the breakroom at work is full of holiday treats throughout November and December, consider taking breaks at your desk. Even better, use that time to take a walk down the street or simply around the office building.
8) On the day of the party or big family feast, don’t starve yourself prior to the banquet. That will only leave you so famished that you overindulge. Instead, eat small high-protein meals or snacks every three to four hours before the big dinner.
9) If you’re serving stuffing with the turkey this year, cook the stuffing separately. This will prevent the fat from the turkey from soaking into the dressing, which will dramatically lower the calories.
10) All turkey is not equal. Choose light meat instead of dark meat and you’ll save a lot of calories. A 3 1/2 ounce serving of sliced meat from a whole roasted turkey has either 161 calories (white meat without skin) or 192 calories (dark meat without skin).
11) Speaking of turkey, don’t forget to trim off the skin before serving it up! You’ll save 33 to 40 calories and 4 or 5 grams of fat per serving (source: urbanext.uiuc.edu).
12) Make the gravy in advance so you have time to put it in the refrigerator. As it cools, the fat will rise to the top and solidify, allowing you to skim it off with a spoon and put it where it belongs: in the trash!
13) Don’t rush the meal. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that you’re full, so any meal should last at least that long! Take your time, eat slowly, and enjoy your family and friends.
14) Wear ‘skinny’ clothes to that holiday party as a reminder to watch what you eat. Snug, tight clothes don’t leave much room for bingeing!
15) When confronted with a buffet table, make your first trip count. Pile up your plate with fresh vegetables, lean meats and other low calorie options. Eat as much healthy food as you can! This will dramatically lower the amount of desserts you’ll later take and will result in a healthier meal overall.
16) When filling up plates for the kids, only give them what they can eat. It’s too tempting to just ‘finish off’ those leftovers for them. Moms, you know what we’re talking about here!
17) Follow the ‘Dessert Split’ plan: Go ahead and take something from the dessert table, but split it with a friend. If you must taste two desserts, split them with two friends. If you feel the need to sample three desserts, split them with three friends. You get the idea. That way you’ll get to taste all the new foods and recipes without completely breaking the calorie budget.
18) When cooking, use evaporated milk straight from the can instead of heavy cream.
19) When baking, three tablespoons will substitute nicely for 1 ounce of unsweetened chocolate.
20) When baking, substitute two egg whites in the place of one whole egg.
21) When baking, substitute unsweetened applesauce for an equal amount of oil.
22) For desserts, don’t forget to use non-fat frozen yogurt where you would normally use ice cream.
23) Don’t attempt to deprive yourself of your absolute favorite food. This only sets you up for a disappointing binge. Instead, allow yourself one small serving of your preferred treat and really savor it.
Just watching your diet alone won’t lead to easy weight loss. For true fat loss, it is critical that you incorporate regular exercise into the holiday routine.
Again referring to Dr. Yanovski’s holiday weight loss study, we can confirm the important of exercise. “The finding that study volunteers reporting more physical activity had less holiday weight gain suggests that increasing physical activity may be an effective method for preventing weight gain during this high-risk time” (source: nichd.nih.gov).
Traditional holiday activities don’t even come close to solving this weight issue. The popular ‘after dinner nap’ burns only about 34 calories for every thirty minutes asleep. Watching television, that great American holiday pastime, burns just 37 calories every thirty minutes. Even sitting down and eating burns more calories than that (56 calories burned every thirty minutes). Clearly, our favorite holiday activities don’t make the best weight loss program (source: caloriesperhour.com).
Only regular and consistent exercise, combined with a low fat diet, will get us the holiday weight loss results we’re seeking. Don’t have the time or urging to exercise? Take a look at this list of the top ten ways to get some holiday exercise without being a humbug:
-> Holiday Exercise Tips:
1) It’s beautiful outside during the holidays! Take a walk outside, down the street or around the block. Take a walking tour of Christmas lights in the neighborhood. A 165 lb. woman walking for 30 minutes will burn approximately 187 calories (source: caloriesperhour.com).
2) Going shopping this Christmas season? Who isn’t? Park as far away from the entrance as possible so you’ll be forced to walk further. Remember, every little bit adds up!
3) Investigate a new shopping mall. You’re going shopping anyway, so why not get some extra exercise in the process? Find a mall you’ve never been to before and make it a point to walk up and down every single staircase. While you’re at it, walk past every single store too.
4) Failing to plan is planning to fail. Right now, before the holiday get crazy, make a plan to get into the gym. Thinking you’ll ‘get around to it’ just doesn’t happen when there are gifts to buy, foods to prepare, and family to visit. Make a plan, write it down, and stick to it.
5) Don’t fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap. If you’ve missed a few visits to the gym already this week, don’t give up until New Years! Instead, get in there and exercise now – even if it’s just once. Some exercise is always better than none at all.
6) When you’re really short on motivation or time, try to get at least ten minutes of exercise. Chances are, once you get started you’ll finish up with the recommended thirty minutes. Even if you do quit after ten minutes, that’s still a lot better than zero!
7) Get in a good solid exercise session right before a big meal. It will increase your will power and your metabolism.
8) Don’t pay the neighbor kid to shovel off the walk for you – do it yourself! You’ll save a few bucks and burn about 225 calories for every thirty minutes of shoveling (source: caloriesperhour.com).
9) Clean the house! Hey, you need to get ready for the annual family visit anyway. Vigorous house cleaning burns about 150 calories every thirty minutes (source: caloriesperhour.com).
10) Find a workout buddy. Pick a good friend or family member that also wants to lose weight fast, and together make a commitment to exercise regularly. You might even want to buy each other a gift certificate for a local gym as a Christmas gift!
There’s no doubt that healthy weight loss during the holidays is difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. Follow a sensible weight loss diet, remember to exercise regularly, and this year you’ll be smiling like Santa instead of grimacing like the Grinch!
* Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women, focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit http://www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.