Although people believe that they gain a lot of weight around the holidays, the truth is that the average North American only gains 1-2 lbs. (1) That being said, if we do that every year, we risk overweight and obesity, along with other diet-related diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
However, even as a dietitian, I am a foodie first and fully support finding comfort in your traditional holiday dishes.
How do we have our cake and eat it too? (literally)
1. Get enough sleep the night before. Raise your hand if you know a mom who stays up all night wrapping presents! Not getting 7-8 hours of sleep will send your body into overeating mode the next day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a lack of sleep increases eating in three ways:
The hunger hormone ghrelin rises and the satisfaction hormone leptin decreases, signaling our bodies to eat more.
Endocannibinoid, a lipid, increases in our blood and like cannabis, makes eating high fat munchies like cookies and cheese more enjoyable.
With less sleep, there are more hours in the day to eat. (2)
Make sleep a priority.
2. Eat a hearty breakfast. Intentionally or not, so many people skip breakfast and overeat later. By eating breakfast with lean protein, fruit, and whole grains, you can take the pressure off of trying to get all of your nutrition in later, but also prevent overeating when the guests arrive. This can also help control blood sugars throughout the day.
3. Use a smaller plate. The less room you have, the less you can put on your plate.
4. During dinner, choose a small portion of each dish. This allows you to taste everything that's important to you without getting overly stuffed.
5. Savor the holiday food. It took 8 hours to make- let the dinner last long enough to show your gratitude. Eat it slow, appreciate it, and enjoy it. This is called mindful eating. By slowing down your eating, you give your body a chance to catch up and signal if it's full or could use a little more green bean casserole. It's takes about 20 minutes to recognize signals of fullness.
6. Eat your veggies first. While we all want to dig into the casserole, mac & cheese, and mashed potatoes first, eating your vegetables first allows you to not only get your nutrition in, but the fiber in veggies will fill you up before you get to dessert. (And believe it or not, people tend to make pretty delicious versions of veggies during the holidays!) You can always save dessert for later if you're too full right after dinner.
7. Bring tupperware and accept your host's offer to bring home leftovers. It's an unfortunate fact that North Americans waste a lot of food during the holidays. The host can only eat so much, so help them out by bringing home some of your favorite side dishes. This helps you by reducing the pressure to try everything in one sitting or eating too much of your favorite dish; with food containers you can always enjoy it tomorrow! If you are the host, freeze excess leftovers to enjoy in the coming weeks.
8. Exercise. There is no miracle prevention to weight gain. You do need physical activity to keep the pounds off, control your blood sugars, stay alert, keep your circulation going, and maintain healthy bones even during the holidays. This can be a simple walk around the neighborhood before or after dinner, or an active Wii session with the kids. Adults are recommended to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week at a minimum. If exercise is new to you, aim for 10,000 steps per day and slowly add weight resistance exercises if your doctor approves of it. Try to prioritize physical activity during the holidays.
(1) National Institutes of Health. (2000). Holiday weight gain slight, but may last a lifetime. Retrieved Dec. 14, 2017 from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/Pages/holidayweightgain.aspx
(2) National Sleep Foundation. (2019). The connection between sleep and overeating. SleepFoundation.org. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/connection-between-sleep-and-overeating