As a dietitian and personal trainer, I’m acutely aware of the challenges we all face during the holiday season. If the experts are correct, Americans may gain a few pounds during the months stretching from Halloween to New Year’s Day, and those few pounds will hang around for the following year. You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that 2-3 lbs. each year will add up over the years, and this incremental weight gain is the norm for many. Fortunately, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With the right plan, holiday weight gain can be prevented.

Before we get into diet tips and strategies, let’s talk about mindset, habits, and intentions. It’s important to know what your intentions and goals are for holiday eating, because without this awareness, you’ll lack direction. Without direction, you won’t have a winning game plan.

Don’t walk into the season naively assuming you can rely on willpower and motivation alone. Willpower is limited, and motivation wanes, so use your mental resources wisely.

Be specific about your goal. Do you want to avoid overeating? Maintain weight during the holidays? Stick to one dessert? What is your intention, and more importantly why? Some non-obvious benefits of eating balanced during the holiday season are improved energy and a sense of balance and well-being. These benefits are priceless if you really think about it. If we’re honest, over-indulgence ultimately doesn’t feel good.

Rather than looking for magical tips and tricks to avoid weight gain during the holidays, a better approach is to focus on mindful eating strategies and get clear about the pros and cons of adopting healthy habits during this difficult time. Recognize cues to eat inappropriately. These include stress, lack of sleep or increased food cues in your environment (well-meaning co-workers who bring you tempting junk food so they don’t have to deal with it).

As for nutritional strategies, that’s actually much more straightforward. First of all, you want to avoid sitting down to big holiday meals overly hungry. It’s easier to make mindful choices when you’re not dealing with a ravenous appetite.

Second, pay attention to portion sizes. A simple mantra I tell my clients is to focus on “lean and clean protein and vegetables.” When you fill up your plate with lean protein and vegetables, you will fill up on nutrient-dense foods and naturally crowd out some of the more savory, albeit calorie- and sugar-laden, options. You can still enjoy some of these foods, but you’ll do so in greater moderation.

Other strategies must be personalized to you, but they include:

  • Eating on a salad plate or flimsy paper plate.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Try club soda, herbal teas, or unsweetened coffee or tea
  • Enjoy appetizers of crudités or a protein such as shrimp, grilled chicken or ahi tuna, as this will help induce satiety
  • Chew gum after eating!

Behavioral strategies include …

  • Manage stress during the holidays.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Be active and exercise daily (Try out GHS’ MoveWell program!)
  • Commit to surrounding yourself with healthy people—peer pressure works!
  • Practice mindfulness in your daily activities, and let this spill over into your eating habits.
  • Avoid “all or nothing” mentality. Changing habits is hard—it requires lots of practice.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to connect with family, friends and people in your community. Try to make the time focused on relationships and experiences, instead of only the food. With the right intentions and proper planning, you can be sure to have a happy and healthy holiday season.

If you know you need a little help in the cooking department, consider utilizing the chefs at Nutrition Solutions Culinary. At our Better Bites Café located inside the GHS Family YMCA, these professionals can do your catering or even prepare your individual or family meals. Visit the website, or call 864-676-1248.

From all of us at Nutrition Solutions, happy holidays!

Christy Strouse, RDN, CPT, LMBT, is a registered dietitian with GHS Nutrition Solutions.

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