It’s that time of year, the 2 month stretch from Halloween through New Year’s Eve, where food and drinks come in abundance. No other time of year has the most holidays and the wealth of food. Starting with Halloween candy and treats and moving onto holiday delicacies, social gatherings and increased alcohol, this time of year can be one of the most challenging to stay on a healthy eating and exercise regimen. But all hope is not lost, here are some simple strategies to help you stay on track and make it into 2024 in good health.
Keep holiday treats to just the holiday itself. The main reason people may gain weight over the holidays is because they are consistently over eating. One of the things that can make people gain weight over the holidays is all the food in between the holidays. When there are cakes, cookies, pies, other desserts and leftovers from meals – it is too easy to continue to indulge for days after the actual holiday. If we enjoy ourselves on the holiday itself and then get back to our normal eating and exercise the next day – we are much less likely to gain weight. If we are continuing to indulge for several days or weeks after the holiday, that over eating adds up to weight gain.
Modify recipes. With many recipes, you can make them healthier and lower in calories without sacrificing flavor. Start by reviewing recipes: check for sugar and fats/oils. Also be mindful of the function of the sugar or fat in the recipe. For example, in cakes the oil or fat is used to provide moisture, and can easily be replaced with an equal amount of pureed fruit such as unsweetened apple sauce. With many recipes you can use less or even omit some of these ingredients and still have a delicious outcome. With sugar you can decrease the amount by ¼ – ⅓ . Fat and oil measurements can often be reduced. You can use cooking sprays to “grease” pans and dishes, use reduced fat milk/cheese and low fat milk in place of full fat versions. Minor changes to recipes can decrease the calorie count without affecting the final products.
Watch the alcohol. With the holidays, often come more social events. When we have more parties and other social gatherings, we may tend to drink more alcoholic beverages. All types of alcohol contain significant calories. Also, drinking decreases inhibitions which can lead to overeating. I encourage people to be mindful of how much they drink, making a point of drinking less. Another strategy is to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Choose sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea between alcoholic beverages to decrease the amount you drink during a party.
Keep up with your exercise routine. The holidays make our lives even more hectic. It is even more important to make time for yourself. Make sure you are getting in your physical activity. You may need to get creative fitting it in. Try planning your exercise by blocking off time in your schedule, just like you would for meetings, doctor appointments, etc. This strategy makes sure you have time to exercise and other things do not take over.
Make time to relax and destress. Even though the holidays are usually a fun time, they can be stressful – preparing foods, buying and wrapping gifts, decorating, etc. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, take time to destress (deep breathing, relaxation techniques, getting in your exercise, etc.)
Offer to bring food to a gathering. If you are attending a family or friend’s holiday gathering, ask if you can bring a dish (main dish, appetizer, dessert, etc.) This allows you to bring a healthier option to the party and have more control over what is served.
Don’t stand next to the food. Avoid standing near the food table – it makes it too easy to mindlessly munch. Get a small plate, take what you want and walk away.
Freeze or give away leftovers. Try not to keep leftovers around. When all those rich foods are readily available, it is too easy to eat them over many days. This is the type of overeating that could lead to holiday weight gain. I suggest freezing leftovers (you can freeze almost anything) or giving your guests “care packages” to take home with them so you aren’t left with a huge amount of leftover food.
Try some of the strategies listed above to help you get through this holiday season healthy and happy! What are some of your strategies to stay on track during this time of year?