You’re probably aware that people tend to gain an average of between 5 to 10 pounds during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (depending on your weight, it can amount to as much as 20 pounds). If you back up the beginning of holiday season to include Halloween and the temptation of leftover trick or treat candy…yikes! You get the picture.
Whether you are actively trying to lose a few pounds or you are just trying to maintain a healthy weight, the holiday season can pose a real threat to your dietary and exercise regimen. Forewarned is forearmed, right? You know the danger of overindulging, so now is the time to develop a strategy for staying on the healthy straight and narrow.
Dr. Annette Low, internal medicine and obesity medicine specialist at Merit Health Medical Group counsels her patients about how to get through the season without piling on those pesky holiday pounds. She shared some no-nonsense tips to help preempt the upcoming temptations, with strategies that will allow you to enjoy the holidays without the guilt.
Plan ahead. To avoid the pitfalls of eating too much during the holidays, plan now before you get off your regimen and deviate from your routine.
“You know you are going to be exposed to things you don’t see the rest of the year,” explains Dr. Low. “To accommodate for these changes, make sure you set realistic goals. Instead of trying to lose weight during the holidays, set a goal of not gaining. Make good choices so you don’t develop a defeatist attitude.”
Don’t deprive yourself. Think about where you are going to eat. Allow yourself to have some things you enjoy, just take smaller portions. Don’t arrive at a party hungry. Try having a protein supplement before going out. It will help curb your appetite and keep your blood sugar level steady. When faced with a feast, choose selections that you don’t get every day. Enjoy the special foods that you only have this time of year.
Avoid the liquid calorie trap. Watch out for those sneaky liquid calories in sodas, cocktails and other alcoholic drinks, eggnog, and punch. They can add up before you know it. You can consume 500 – 1000 calories in just a few drinks. Keep your liquid intake to 0 calories. Water and unsweetened tea are great choices.
Keep a food diary. The best way to stay on track and not overdo it during the holidays is to keep an accurate record of what you are eating. Track your eating patterns so you can prepare ahead of any times you will want to indulge.
“There are some great calorie tracking apps to help you follow your eating patterns and keep a handle on your intake,” adds Dr. Low.
Create a healthy version of your favorite recipe. If you are planning to host a holiday party, try revising a traditional family favorite so it is lower in fat and calories.
The Mayo Clinic offers some techniques for putting a healthy spin on your traditional family dishes without sacrificing flavor. Use your imagination and experiment to find other ways to create healthy recipes.
• Fat. For baked goods, use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana or prune puree. You can also use commercially prepared fruit-based fat replacers found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.
• Sugar. Reduce the amount of sugar by one-third to one-half. Instead, add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract to boost sweetness.
• Salt. For most main dishes, salads, soups and other foods, you can reduce the salt by half or even eliminate it. You can reduce salt by half in baked goods that don’t require yeast too. For foods that require yeast, you may need to experiment. Some salt may be necessary for leavening to keep baked goods from being too dense or flat.
Keep up your exercise routine. Your exercise routine is even more important during the holidays to help reduce stress and avoid putting on extra pounds.
“Hectic holiday schedules can wreak havoc on your normal exercise regimen,” notes Dr. Low. “Walking is a great way to stay active and deal with stress. Peel away from the craziness for 15 minutes and take a walk to get your blood flowing and decompress.”
Enjoy the season. “Holidays evoke strong responses from all the senses, and these responses are tied up with memories and emotions,” continues Low. “It is a time of year we look forward to, when we can share traditions, and gather with friends and family. You can celebrate and not give up on your favorite traditions…you just have to make sensible adjustments, eat smarter and stick to your plan.”
Annette Low, M.D., received her doctor of Medicine degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed a residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, as well as Case Western Reserve University Hospital. She is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine. Dr. Low’s clinic is Merit Health Medical Group and she is a member of the medical staff at Merit Health River Oaks.