The holidays are a time meant for joy and celebration, spending time with friends and family, and special meals and traditions. However, this time can also trigger feelings of stress and anxiety, especially if you are trying to lose weight, or avoid weight gain. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays while still feeling healthy and in control of your eating:
- Eat regular and balanced meals. Some people may skip meals in an effort to save up calories for a big holiday dinner or party, but this strategy may actually cause you to overeat later in the day. Make sure you eat a breakfast and lunch that incorporates a lot of vegetables and protein, with minimal carbs, so that you don’t overcompensate at night. If you tend not to be hungry for breakfast, make sure to read tip number 10.
- Eat your vegetables. At every dinner or party, try to have a plate of salad or vegetables before anything else. These low-calorie and high-fiber foods will help you fill up before diving into the higher calorie options. If you are going to have carbs (i.e., bread, pasta, rice) try to have them at the end of your meal.
- Don’t drink your calories. An easy way to cut calories is to avoid drinks like regular soda, juice, coffee drinks with added flavoring and sugar, or alcoholic beverages. If you drink alcohol, choose spirits mixed with something without added sugar (i.e., seltzer, diet tonic). Drinking alcohol can also lower inhibitions and contribute to increased snacking and indulging, so try to be mindful of your intake.
- It’s not “now or never.” Sometimes when presented with a spread of tempting options, one may feel the need to try every single thing. Remind yourself that there will be plenty of delicious food at other meals down the road. You can also set some food aside and put it in the freezer to have at a later date.
- It’s okay to say no. Don’t feel pressured to say yes to every offering of food. When your cousin says “you have to try” her famous chocolate cake, it’s okay to say that you feel full, or that you are trying to be careful this year, and although it looks incredible, you are going to pass this time (or just have a bite).
- Get moving as much as you can. The more you exercise the better, and everything counts. New recommendations say even short bouts of exercise (less than 10 minutes) are beneficial for your health. Consider going for a walk with family after a big dinner, or if relying on public transportation, get off the subway a stop early and walk some of your trip. If you are unable to exercise due to an injury or musculoskeletal condition, speak with your physical therapist or doctor to go over some safe strengthening exercises you may be able to do at home.
- If exercise isn’t an option, try to find other ways to de-stress. The holidays can stir up stressful feelings, potentially leading to overeating. Try to find an activity to reduce stress so that you don’t turn to food. It may be meditating, taking a hot bath or shower, listening to music, or calling a friend to catch up. Even just 10 minutes can help you feel more relaxed and make it less likely that you turn to food for relief.
- Try eating mindfully. If you are someone who feels that you compulsively eat, especially when presented with a large amount of food, a mindful eating strategy may help. Briefly, mindful eating is about focusing your complete attention on what food you are eating, how it tastes, and how hungry or satiated you are feeling in the moment (so no eating in front of the television). Take a few deep breaths before you have a meal to gain awareness of where you are and what you are about to take in. There are great smartphone apps available, such as Headspace, which teach basic meditation skills and have courses specifically training participants in mindful eating.
- Give into your cravings (in moderation). Controlling diet and weight is a balancing act. Cutting out dessert and sweets completely over the holidays is simply unrealistic and may lead to overeating or binging. If you are really craving a piece of cake, let yourself have it. Again, remind yourself that this won’t be your last dessert and put the fork down after one slice.
- Try time restricted eating. For some people (especially people who aren’t hungry first thing in the morning), the strategy of time restricted eating, or eating within an 8-hour window, is effective for weight maintenance. For example, allowing yourself to eat between noon and 8pm can be an effective way to control calories during the holidays.
- Think of your long-term goals. Remember why you are trying to lose weight, or maintain. Are you preparing for surgery, or trying to decrease your joint pain. Whatever the reason is, write it down, and keep reminding yourself of it. New Year’s resolutions can start before January 1. You can do this!
- Last but not least, be kind to yourself. It is normal to overeat at some point over the holidays. Remember that you can always get back on track the next day.
Have a great holiday season!
Dr. Caroline Andrew is a medical weight management specialist at HSS. She is a board certified internal medicine physician and fellowship trained in obesity medicine. Using both dietary and behavioral interventions, along with medications for weight loss, she helps patients lose weight and maintain weight loss.