By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
Everyone dreads holiday weight gain. It seems to happen every holiday season. You go to all the parties and gather with your family members, friends, and colleagues to enjoy delicious holiday goodies and themed beverages. The season flies by and you are left stepping on the scale and realizing you’ve gained a little bit of weight from your holiday indulging. Feeling a bit disappointed, the cycle begins again with a New Year’s resolution to “lose the holiday weight and never let this happen again.” The good news is that you can swap out a few healthy desserts to battle the bulge over the holidays.
This is such a common theme, researchers have actually done multiple studies on the psyche behind holiday weight gain and have found that it is, in fact, normal for all cultures around the world.
But you can step out of the norm and change your holiday habits. The best part is that you don’t have to completely give up your yummy foods and drinks; we’ve come up with healthier alternatives to avoid the extra pounds this season.
Most people believe that the average weight gain around the holidays is 5–10 pounds, but according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average American’s weight increases by 0.4%. This equates to only about one pound of extra weight.
The kicker? Most people don’t lose this weight until Easter, almost four months later. This weight is compounded over time, and before you know it, you are closing in on your next holiday season still hanging on to the weight from the holiday before. If nothing is done about the weight, in 20 years, you’ll have 20 extra pounds of hard-to-lose weight.
As I help my clients get through the holidays unfazed, the biggest obstacle is overcoming binge eating and overeating.
Binge eating is defined as an episode of overeating that can impact your health and well-being. It can happen on a single occasion, or it can become a normal way of eating, which in turn leads to problems and disorders like bulimia.
Overeating is harder to define because it encompasses almost all eating disorders. It’s a very common problem, and even more of a problem around the holidays because you are around a constant array of sweet and savory foods that trigger your body to release dopamine, the “happy hormone.” This encourages you to eat more than you should even after you’ve reached an obvious state of discomfort or even pain.
Eating excessively once won’t cause serious health problems, but repeatedly over time, overeating can cause extreme weight gain or even obesity. These habits tend to start during the holidays. To avoid this, make sure to listen to your body and understand the feeling of fullness. Even though your body may be telling you “more” because of the release of dopamine, you need to say no and resist temptation.
If you have a stable exercise and eating routine in place, continue to stick to this as much as you can. There is no need to change those daily patterns. If you do fall off the train bit as the holidays progress, just remember to hop right back on when the holidays end.
Those of us that get into trouble during the holidays are those that are eating more and exercising less. It’s important to be even more mindful of the food you are eating around the holidays, knowing you will be consuming more calories than usual.
Keep reading for a list of alternatives to the normal spread you’ll see at most holiday parties. Pro-tip: If it isn’t your party, eat a full, healthy meal beforehand so you don’t indulge in many of the fat- and sugar- filled foods you’ll find when you’re there.
Eggnog is a common holiday drink that is loaded with over 250 calories and over half of your daily saturated fat. Add alcohol to your eggnog and you’re pushing 350 calories in one drink. To break it down even further, if you’re on a 1500 calorie diet, that is a little more than a fourth of your allotted calories for the day.
Substitute apple cider for eggnog, which ditches the fat and saves you 150 calories. If you have to have eggnog, make sure you make your own with fat-free milk and sugar alternative.
There are plenty of alcoholic beverage alternatives to help you save on the calories this season. Stay away from sugary drink blends and fruit juices. Instead, opt for real fruit and fresh ingredients. The healthiest way to drink alcohol is on the rocks with fresh fruit either squeezed or muddled into it.
Just by choosing pumpkin pie over pecan, you can save around 200 calories. On average, a slice of pecan pie has around 500 calories. You’re really not saving much here, since both are steep in calories, but, at least with pumpkin pie, you are getting vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
If pecans are high on your holiday must-haves, skipping the pie altogether and indulging in roasted cinnamon-sugar pecans will save you a ton of calories (assuming you don’t eat the whole bag).
The average holiday cookie holds between 180–250 calories each. Just like your holiday drink, this can add up over the season, especially if you can’t limit yourself to just one cookie per event.
The key to holiday baking is using healthier alternatives that are full of nutrients your body can use and healthy fats your body won’t store. One of my favorite healthier cookie alternatives is chocolate-coconut almond bites. This recipe is gluten-free, uses minimal ingredients, and still packs enough sweetness to fulfill that holiday sugar craving.
Get the full cooking directions at aPlaceforMom.
It’s important to enjoy your time with family and friends during the holiday season. So, give yourself permission to enjoy it, but think about the foods you eat. Just being conscious of your food choices will help stabilize your weight and allow you to not stress about potential weight gain. This is especially true if your thought creates the action of eating healthier desserts and other foods.