Over the course of the holiday season, you’ll be served with delicious cuisines, decadent desserts, and rich beverages that will surely disrupt your normal eating routine. Most of us would not want to give up any holiday foods or activities, which will encourage overeating of calorie-rich foods and sedentary behaviors. Evidence also showed that most adults in Western countries gain an average of 1 pound between November and January (1).
It’s good to unwind, but you have to make a commitment to celebrate with moderation and balance in mind. This isn’t a form of self-denial; rather, a way to enjoy the indulgences of the season without harming your health. If you can keep the pounds off now, you may not have to deal with managing your weight loss later! See the suggestions below to help you stay focused on healthy eating habits this Christmas and New Year.
1. Do Fun and Exciting Physical Activities with Family and Friends
Sedentary activities are common holiday traditions for many families. It’s fun to sit on the couch and watch TV shows and movies while eating. Inactivity may cause weight gain, especially if accompanied by overeating (2, 3).
Who doesn’t love playing party games? Doing some type of physical activity with your family may prove beneficial for weight control. Playing games can help get your mind off food and allow you to bond with your loved ones.
You can also stay active during the holidays by participating in workplace or community fitness events. Races and team sports are popular options.
2. Snack Wisely
During the holiday season, cookies and other sugary goodies are everywhere and when treats are easy to access, you’re more likely to snack unnecessarily. While this can be easily avoided at home, this is difficult to avoid in workplaces and parties.
Try to be mindful of your snacking habits. Avoid sugary and processed foods. Consumption of processed foods may increase your risk of obesity as they contain high amounts of fat, salt, and sugar (4). Sugar may increase your desire for sweet-tasting foods and encourage overeating (5).
However, if you are hungry and need a snack, opt for real food. Take fruits and vegetables! They have fewer calories and fat, but are filling! The use of fruits and vegetables instead of higher-calorie ingredients for your dishes is a healthy choice! The water and fiber in these fruits and vegetables will add volume to your meals. You’ll eat the same amount of food with fewer calories (6).
Nuts and seeds are excellent choices too since they do not contain added sugars and unhealthy fats.
3. Switch to Smaller Dinnerware
Evidence shows that the sizes of your plates, spoons, and glasses can intuitively influence the amount of food you eat (7, 8, 9). If you use larger plates, your food may appear smaller, hence causing you to overeat. Interestingly, most of us were completely unaware of this effect and change in portion size, including nutritional experts (10)! They served themselves 31% more ice cream when given big bowls and 14.5% more when provided with bigger serving spoons (11).
Therefore, changing your usual plates, bowls, and serving spoons for smaller sizes during the holiday season can help reduce your food intake. Many would feel just as full having consumed smaller dishes as from a large one.
4. Follow the Half-Plate Rule
Fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of filling fiber and water with fewer calories (12). By replacing half the protein or starch of your meal with fruits and non-starchy veggies, you can eat the same amount of food and still slash total calories.
Evidence has shown that the amount of food you eat is a great factor in feeling full and satisfied (13). One study gave participants the same amount of pasta, but with varying amounts of veggies, results showed that those who had the highest proportion of veggies ate the least amount of calories without them knowing (14).
Filling half of your plate with colorful fruits and veggies will still make your meals look appetizing. This trick will work on holiday parties too!
5. Watch Your Portion Size
While measuring and weighing food is not appealing, you can still do portion control with the help of your plate or bowl as guides. This can help you create a well-balanced meal, following the optimal macronutrient ratios. A rough guide for every meal is:
- Half a plate for vegetables or salad
- A quarter of a plate for high-quality protein such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, beans, and tofu
- A quarter of a plate for whole grains and starchy veggies
- Half a tablespoon for high-fat foods like oils, butter, and cheese
Keep in mind that this is just a rough estimate, as we all have different dietary needs. Those who are physically active may need more. Vegetables and salad contain less amount of calories but are rich in fiber and other nutrients. Filling up on these will help prevent overeating of calorie-dense foods. For more guidance, you can look for portion-control plates.
Another good way to check an appropriate portion size without the aid of any measuring tools is by simply using your hands. Your hands correspond well to your body size. Bigger people who need more food generally have bigger hands (15). An estimate for every woman’s meal includes:
- A palm-sized serving of high-protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, and beans
- A fist-sized portion of vegetables and salads
- A cupped-hand portion if high-carb foods like whole grains and starchy veggies
- A thumb-sized serving of high-fat foods like oils, nuts, and butter
For men, double the measurements!
6. Practice Mindful Eating
Temptations are high with an abundance of food choices during the holiday season. Not to mention the distractions that shift our attention away from the actual act of eating like televisions and gadgets. Eating becomes a mindless act, usually done quickly. This can cause health problems.
Eating fast may not help you recognize the fullness signal until you have already consumed too much. This is quite common in binge eating. Mindful eating allows you to slow down and eat intentionally. It can also increase your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues. You can differentiate between true and emotional hunger (16). You’ll also know your triggers and it can help you make a space between them and your actions. You’ll have the time and freedom to choose how to respond.
There are ways to help you get you started. These eating tips have powerful benefits on their own:
- Don’t be in a hurry. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
- Remove distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your gadgets.
- Pay attention to how food makes you feel.
- Stop eating when you are already full.
- Ask yourself why you are eating. Are you really hungry? Is the food you’re eating healthy?
Try to focus on these points while eating during festivities. As soon as you get the hang of it, mindfulness will become more natural. Then you can implement these habits into more meals.
7. Eat Protein with Every Snack or Meal
Holiday meals are often rich in carbs but low in protein. However, it is a must to include protein with every snack or meal, as scientific studies have repeatedly shown that protein can increase feelings of fullness more than fat and carbs (17, 18). Take good advantage of protein’s filling properties by including it in your snacks and meals.
Focus on eating good sources of protein from the party menus. Look for eggs, skinless poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy. Plant-based proteins are also excellent choices! Take beans, tofu, and nut butter!
8. Consume More Dietary Fiber
Fiber is yet another important nutrient that helps promote feelings of fullness. Unfortunately, many common holiday foods lack adequate amounts of fiber. Do your best to eat fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Studies show that dietary fiber plays an important role in weight loss and maintenance. One trial revealed that fiber complex supplements can people lose 5% of their body weight if taken 3 times daily for a course of at least 12 weeks (19).
9. Start Your Meals with A Glass of Water
Drinking water for at least half an hour before a meal can naturally help in portion control. It will make you feel less hungry and get a better distinction between hunger and thirst.
Evidence showed that drinking approximately 500 ml of water before every meal can result in a 44% greater decline in weight over 3 months, most likely because of less food intake (20). It may also help you consume 13% fewer calories without trying to make any changes (21).
10. Get A Soup
How often do you eat soup? Soups are a great addition to our meals, but we rarely lean on them for their support in the battle against an unhealthy diet and obesity.
For better portion control during the holiday season, you may start your meal with a warm soup. Eating soup before lunch or dinner can help you reduce your hunger and reduce the calorie intake throughout the meal course that follows. Soup, like water, helps hydrate your body and can provide multiple nutrients depending on what you decide to cook your homemade soup (22, 23).
11. Eat A Salad for Appetizer
It may seem counterintuitive to add more courses in order to eat less food, but starting your meal with a salad p can help you do just that! For sure, a variety of appetizers will be served during holiday gatherings.
Salads, just like soups have high water and high fiber content. The salad and soup combo appear to be an effective way of curbing appetite and subsequent calorie intake (24, 25, 26). But check your salad dressing as it can easily rack up your calories!
12. Eat Spicy Dishes
Adding spices to your food can help you eat less. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which is known to be effective in decreasing appetite and hunger (27). Evidence found that people who had spicy red peppers as part of their appetizer ate 190 fewer calories during lunch and snack as compared to those who skipped the spices (28).
If you hate spicy foods, try ginger! Experts found that drinking ginger tea during breakfast can also make you feel less hungry (29).
13. Don’t Taste-Test!
Do you like cooking and baking during the holiday season? If yes, you are surely taste-testing your dishes! Unfortunately, this can cause weight gain. Tasting your dishes can be important, especially if you’re cooking for guests. However, regular small bites can certainly add up in calories.
You should also make sure that you aren’t hungry while cooking, as it’s much easier to go overboard on taste-testing when your stomach is growling.
14. Prepare A Healthy Dish to Share
Are you attending a holiday party where you have no control over food preparation? If you want to avoid high-calorie foods and overeating, one simple trick is to bring a healthy dish to share. This way, you can guarantee you’ll have something to eat that aligns with your weight goals.
15. Go Easy on Dessert and Liquid Calories
As mentioned earlier, cookies, cakes, and other sugary goodies are everywhere during the holiday season! This will lead to excessive sugar consumption, a common culprit of weight gain.
Instead of eating every treat in sight, just focus on your favorites and ditch the rest. Another trick is to savor the desserts you do indulge in, simply taking the time to eat them slowly, which may leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to overdo it.
Alcohol, soda, and other calorie-rich beverages are also prevalent during family gatherings and festivities. These drinks can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain (30). Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased appetite and is a risk factor for weight gain (31).
If you’re trying to control your weight, it’s best to limit your intake of high-calorie beverages.
Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful. Stress can affect your body and mind greatly. One study suggests that stress may cause changes in eating patterns, craving for more high-calorie foods (32). During long periods of stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which increases appetite (33).
For these reasons, it’s important to keep it cool during the holidays even if you are busy and surrounded by unhealthy foods. If you are on a vacation for the holidays with family and friends, you may opt to do simple exercises or yoga altogether to help reduce stress while enjoying each other’s company.
17. Sleep Well
Lack of sleep is very common during long-night holiday parties and this may cause weight gain. People who lack sleep tend to be hungrier, eat more calories, and exercise less (34, 35, 36). Sleep restriction may increase your hunger hormone levels, ultimately leading to higher calorie intake.
Additionally, inadequate sleep has been linked to lower metabolism. This may be caused by alterations in your circadian rhythm — a biological clock that regulates many of your bodily functions (34, 37).
So try to get enough rest and sleep whenever possible, despite having a busy schedule with family and friends.
18. Use A Food Diary
One way to prevent holiday weight gain is to keep track of the food that you are eating.
Studies suggest that keeping a food diary can help you lose more weight as it increases your awareness of the type and amount of food you eat every day (38). This will help you eliminate unhealthy choices and make adjustments in your diet accordingly.
While trying to keep your weight goals can feel daunting during the holiday season, multiple tips and tricks can help keep you focused, healthy, and happy during this time of year.
Beyond general diet tips, it’s best to make sure you’re staying active and limiting your intake of holiday treats.
If you’re diligent, you may find that you’ve not only avoided weight gain but even lost extra pounds during this festive season.