Waking up on January 1st with an extra 5 or 10 pounds and possibly a hangover is not all that fun. Wouldn’t you feel better if you at least maintained your weight and woke up with a spring in your step to face the new year head on? Here are my registered dietitian approved tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the holiday season, so you are ready to face what the new year has to offer.
1. Focus on weight maintenance
The holidays are not a time to start any fad diets or crazy weight loss programs. There are simply too many temptations and you are just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, set a goal to maintain your current weight, which is a lot easier than losing weight.
2. Exercise daily
You might be surprised to know that regular exercise doesn’t really help much with weight loss, but it makes a huge difference in weight maintenance. It is also essential for stress management, which can be a significant challenge during the holidays.
Regular exercise can be one of the first things to go by the wayside when things get busy. To prevent this from happening, consider planning out your physical activity ahead of time in your calendar. Prioritizing exercise will help improve your mood, reduce guilt, and possibly help reduce the impact of the holiday treats.
3. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful about what and how much you are eating can help prevent overeating and slow down holiday weight gain. During the holidays it is easy to overindulge if you are not paying attention. When you are socializing, sitting near the buffet table, or someone keeps filling up your wine glass, it can be easy to overconsume.
Instead learn to check in with your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Set a goal of eating only if you are physically hungry and stopping when you are satisfied. Once you are satisfied with your meal, move away from the food. For the rest of the gathering, focus on connecting with your family and friends instead.
4. Choose your favorites
There are many special foods available during the holidays not available at other times of the year. You should enjoy some of your holiday favorites without guilt! But be selective in your choices. Love your grandmother’s pie? Have a slice! Don’t care for holiday sugar cookies? Don’t eat them. By focusing on your favorites, you can enjoy a few treats without the extra calories of things you don’t really love.
5. Choose fruits and veggies
If you are not indulging in all of the different holiday foods, what should you eat instead? Lots of fruits and veggies, just like any other time of the year! The easiest way to save on calories at any holiday party is to fill half your plate with low-calorie produce. When your plate is loaded with plants, this helps you stay full while effortlessly cutting your calories in half.
6. Get rid of treats
When your favorite treats are available, you are more likely to indulge. If you are hosting a holiday party, try to send your guests off with any leftovers. If they won’t take them, at least put them away in a hard-to-reach area. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy items so you are not tempted to keep going back to that leftover pie. And if you just can’t resist, it is okay to throw away leftovers sometimes.
7. Drink water, limit alcohol
I know this isn’t the most fun recommendation, but overindulging on booze only sets you up for consuming too many calories, overeating, and feeling awful the next morning. You might think you need a couple of extra drinks to deal with family stress, but getting wasted doesn’t actually help your stress and may lead to more problems overall.
Focus instead on drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can make you think you are hungry, when you are really just thirsty. Also, drinking water before you hit the buffet table can help you feel less hungry overall so you eat less. Consider starting every party with an 8-12 ounce glass of water before you dive into the festivities.
If you do decide to drink, consider a white wine spritzer you can sip on during the whole party. Mixing alcohol with non-calorie hydrating liquids, like seltzer or sparkling water, can help you stay hydrated and decrease your overall consumption.
8. Get enough sleep
There are a lot of demands during the holiday season and it's easy to get stretched too thin. This is why sleep must be a priority. Not sleeping enough makes us crave sugary carbs, make more poor choices, and struggle to exercise. Aim to get at least 8 hours every night during the holiday season and schedule in time for rest.
9. Forgive and move on
Even if you overdo it at some point, try to not let guilt take over so it spirals into many days of poor choices. It is easy to adopt an attitude of “Oh I screwed up, so I’ll just keep going.” Remember: One meal or one cookie (or even 5 cookies) won’t cause you to pack on 10 pounds. Weight gain happens when we consistently make unhealthy choices day after day.
If you do overindulge, just get back on track the next day. Start the day with a big glass of water and some exercise to signal to your mind and body that you are making healthy choices. Then plan out healthy meals and snacks for the rest of your day. The holidays are a challenging time on their own—there is no need to spend them full of guilt over what you ate.
10. Enjoy yourself
At the end of the day, the holidays are meant to be enjoyed. So enjoy yourself! Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and family gatherings only come around once a year, so why not have a little fun? Instead of stressing about weight gain, try to focus on exercise, self-care, and eating some foods you enjoy. The new year will be here soon and you can focus on your goals then. For now, take a long deep breath and enjoy the holiday season.
Take Control of Your Weight Loss Journey
With a few small changes and a bit of mindfulness, you can wake up on January 1st feeling your absolute best and with pants that still fit.