Holiday Diets: Staying on Track from Thanksgiving Through the New Year

From family gatherings to office potlucks, the holidays can be a nightmare if you’re trying to manage your weight. Combine that with emotional eating and less time to exercise, and you have a recipe for weight gain.

In one study, researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that people gained about one pound during the holiday season. That may not sound like a lot, but small weight gains can add up and contribute to obesity later in life. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to keep your weight loss plan on track during the holidays.

Set reasonable goals: If you’re trying to lose weight, the holidays can be a particularly tough time. Adjusting your expectations can help. Instead of focusing on continuing to lose weight during the holidays, focus instead on not gaining. Also, make sure your weight loss expectations are realistic. In general, losing between half and one pound a week is a good goal when dieting.

Adapt your eating: Controlling the impulse to fill up on empty calories is key to successful holiday dieting. If you’re at a party, don’t stand by the dessert table. Instead, move to another room and focus on conversations with other guests.

What if it’s anxiety or stress that leads you to reach for another handful of chips? Try seeking out relaxation techniques to help cope with emotional eating.

Make smart choices: Eating raw vegetables or a salad before filling your plate with more calorie-dense entrees and desserts can help you consume less overall, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Remember that calories can lurk in unsuspected places. Be wary of egg nog, mixed drinks and punches, which can contain up to 500 calories per cup.

Fortunately, not all holiday foods need to be avoided. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, soups and salads can all be good choices. If you’re hosting or contributing a dish to a potluck, focus on providing tasty, healthy options, so you’re less tempted to hit the fat-laden main course.

Enjoy special foods: You don’t have to refuse favorites like honey-baked ham and grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookies, but don’t pig out, either. The ADA recommends starting your day with a healthy breakfast and eating smaller snacks during the day. You’ll save calories for a big meal but won’t be so famished that you gorge yourself when dinner finally arrives.

Watching how much food you put on your plate is also important. Look at everything on the table before you take any food. Decide what foods are worth eating and what can be skipped. Then, opt for smaller portions of your favorites, eat slowly and savor the tastes of the foods you’ve chosen.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Instead of depriving yourself, permit yourself to splurge on the things that make your holiday season more enjoyable. Indulge in your favorites in reasonable amounts, and try to cut back in other ways. Also, try to sneak in exercise whenever you can, even if it means walking faster when you shop. With a combination of healthy eating, exercise and the occasional indulgence, you should be able to keep your diet on track.

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