Note from the author: I lost 100 lbs which took me a year and a half, and have maintained my weight for the last six months. It is always a struggle for me and I really do use the strategies I talk about below– I try always to be prepared and miracle of miracle, my binges and starve/stuff syndrome are gone as long as I do.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, many Americans gain from five to seven pounds which doesn’t sound like a lot, however most of us don’t lose it in the New Year and if we don’t this means in the next five years we will have gained between twenty-five to thirty-five unwanted pounds. The best idea, though it takes some thought and planning, is not to gain it in the first place, and if we do gain, to lose it during the winter months and keep it off by healthy eating, exercise and weighing yourself to track your progress.
The most successful strategy to avoid gaining weight during the holidays is to think of The Boy Scout Motto: “Be prepared”. This means being conscious of what you’re eating and deciding which higher calorie foods associated with the holidays you really enjoy and eating limited portions of them while eating a nutritious breakfast and enough protein and vegetables at lunch or dinner that you won’t be ravenous when you go to a party or dinner celebration.
You probably know in advance the foods that will be served at Thanksgiving dinner, so chose the ones that will satisfy you and avoid the rest. What helps is to eat a nutritious breakfast that contains protein such as eggs, or fresh fruit and cottage cheese. Take a walk or do some kind of exercise in the morning. Don’t arrive at dinner really hungry, which will make it easy to mindlessly eat handfuls of salted nuts, cheese and crackers, chips and dips.
Alcohol will lower your inhibitions around food, so enjoy a glass of wine, but also drink a few glasses of water with it. I really crave the wing of the turkey which is higher in calories than the white meat, but only eat that part of the turkey, I choose a helping of stuffing but don’t eat the mashed potato or creamed onions, or vegetables drenched in butter, or rolls. I eat the plainer vegetables but it’s the stuffing and turkey wing that really satisfy me so I don’t feel deprived. Homemade apple pie is my favorite dessert this time of year, sometimes with vanilla ice cream so I usually eat a piece and resist the fudge, cookies, pumpkin and pecan pies that I don’t like nearly as much. Suggest a walk after dinner, or take the kids to a playground or help clean up to keep yourself moving.
Certain functions around the Holidays are stressful for me, especially work related events and parties where I don’t know a lot of the people and am not sure who will be open to having a conversation with me. Since I am by nature a stress eater and drinker, I don’t have more than one alcoholic beverage, I never arrive too hungry, lonely or tired and eat only what foods appeal to me and leave the rest.
Plan some exercise into your schedule every day during this period and find the best time of day to do it, for most of us it’s the morning and it will energize you more than an extra half hour of sleep will. Eat or take a healthy breakfast to work, so you can avoid those 400 calorie cakey things at meetings that are masquerading as healthy muffins but are usually laden with sugar and unhealthy fats. I would rather eat at my desk and use my lunch period to walk or run some errands especially if I don’t exercise in the morning, and riding my stationary bike in the evening for a half hour while watching television is an easy way to work in some additional exercise.
Holiday buffets are difficult for everyone to handle, a good strategy is to “circle the wagon”, meaning walk around the table several times to see what’s available and pick a few things that appeal to you. If you really want the meatballs or chicken wings or cheese puffs eat those in a reasonable portion, and have some good tasting vegetables that you like along with it. If you feel like dessert choose the one that really appeals to you and enjoy every bite.
Making unrealistic expectations around the holidays such as you won’t eat any sweets, or snacks, or prime rib or drink any eggnog will make you feel deprived and could set you up for an episode of binge eating. Not eating enough food at regular intervals will interfere with making reasonable decisions. So eat, drink and be merry as much as you want, but make sure you custom tailor it to what that means to you and it might not be food related. Go to a holiday concert, volunteer at a food pantry or shelter, visit some lonely folks in a nursing home and bring small gifts, go caroling, light up your home, spend a Saturday afternoon writing cards or notes to friends, with music in the background, a cup of tea at your elbow and feel gratitude if you can manage it. Dream about how you would like your life to be a year from now. Follow your heart in the Holiday season, celebrate in the ways that are meaningful for you and like the groaning buffet table, take what you want and leave the rest.