It’s officially the season of cookies and candy canes, sugarplums and savory pies. But a festive holiday spirit doesn’t mean you have to reach for your fat pants. Follow these easy tips to keep your diet and exercise on track during the holidays. When the scale reads the same – or something even better – come January, that’ll really be something to celebrate!
Don’t skip meals to gorge later. “If you skip meals with the idea of ‘saving’ those calories for a big meal later, you are more likely to make less healthy choices, eat too quickly and overeat,” said Amanda Smith, registered dietitian of Novant Health Bariatric Solutions in Winston-Salem. “We often end up eating more total calories when skipping meals earlier in the day and skipping meals may also slow your metabolism.”
Choose wisely. “Bring your own healthy dish to holiday gatherings so that you know there is at least one healthy option to choose from,” Smith said. She also recommended a balanced plate. “Aim to fill one-half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth of your plate with lean protein and one-fourth of your plate with a healthy whole grain or other complex carbohydrate, such as a sweet potato.”
Consume fewer liquid calories. Everyone loves a good eggnog/cider/hot chocolate/wine/beer/festive cocktail. However, all those peppermint mocha lattes add up to a lot of empty, extra calories. “Continue to reach for zero-calorie beverages, such as water, or unsweetened peppermint tea in place of a latte,” Smith said. “If you plan to indulge in eggnog or other alcoholic beverages remember to do so in moderation and alternate with water, and aim to drink your daily recommended amount of water.”
Make holiday meals healthier. Chances are you aren’t the only person around your table trying to stay healthy this year. Good health is the best gift you can give your loved ones. Make it a family affair by putting a healthier spin on family-favorite dishes. “Offer a vegetable tray to start the meal,” Smith recommended. “This is healthy and you can start to fill up on low-calorie vegetables instead of higher-calorie appetizers and dishes.” Smith also recommended roasted Brussel sprouts or salad greens with spiced pecans. “Instead of cooking with salt and butter, try olive oil and fresh herbs and spices for flavor,” she said.
Keep moving. Sure, the holidays are a primetime to relax and spend time with family. However, that shouldn’t be an excuse to be inactive for days on end. “You don’t have to necessarily hit the gym, but ensuring you still get some exercise in during the holidays is extremely important,” Smith said. She recommended taking a walk or playing a family game of touch football. “YouTube is another great resource for free exercise videos,” she added. “In many cases, you only need a set of hand weights and a mat. The idea is to just keep moving. It’s good for your heart and will help you digest and burn off those extra holiday calories.”
Have a plan. It’s easy to fall into the habit of stacking food on your plate when going around the buffet, but it can cost you. “I usually suggest to my patients that they look over all of the food offerings first, before starting to put food on the plate,” Smith said. “Remember to include lean protein, fruits and vegetables and a small serving of starch. When you are hungry again in a few hours, you can go back and get what you didn’t the first time.”
Get enough sleep and zap stress. Both lack of sleep and excess stress can dominate over the busy holiday season, and both are enemies to weight loss. “If you are not getting enough sleep, your body will not produce biochemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine and leptin, in the correct amounts,” Smith said. “All of these biochemicals impact your mood, cravings, food choices and food intake.” Smith noted that high levels of stress and lack of sleep can both contribute to higher levels of cortisol, which can cause cravings and increased appetite.
Most importantly, be honest about what you eat and don’t be too hard on yourself. “I think being realistic is key during the holidays,” Smith said.