Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, egg nog, chocolates, candy canes, Christmas cookies and a champagne toast are all holiday traditions, but they can wreak havoc on waistlines over the holidays.
Holiday indulgences add extra pounds fast, according to Jennifer Anderson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension food science and human nutrition specialist.
"It’s okay to treat yourself during the holidays," Anderson said. "But it’s important to keep up with an exercise regimen to burn off extra calories and fat, or you’ll find yourself gaining weight. A small traditional Thanksgiving meal, for example, contains about the number of calories an active, adult man requires in one day."
Regardless of whether extra calories come from fat, carbohydrate, protein or alcohol, the end result can be unwanted weight gain. Anything a body does not use as energy is stored as fat, so balancing what and how much you eat with exercise is the key to maintaining weight.
"Many indulge in eating more during the holidays, making weight loss nearly impossible. A realistic goal during the holidays is to focus on maintaining your weight rather than losing pounds," Anderson said.
Avoiding over-indulgence is a key factor in avoiding weight gain. Don’t starve all day to make room for a big holiday meal, which leads to overeating. Instead, eat a light breakfast and lunch before tackling a holiday dinner. Snacking on high-fiber fruit and drinking a large glass of water a half-hour before a large meal will help to fill your stomach and can help to prevent over-indulging. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to recognize that the body is full, so slow down when eating and only eat until comfortable, not completely full.
Other tips Anderson suggests include:
- Hide goodies behind cupboard doors, or freeze treats for later. High-fat and sugar treats left out are too tempting.
- Don’t stand next to the food table or snack trays at parties. Move around the party to visit with guests.
- Maintain your normal schedule; don’t skip meals or interrupt exercise routines if possible. Eating regular meals prevents overeating later in the day and, in addition to controlling weight, exercise reduces stress, another factor in overeating for many.
- Avoid eating turkey skin. The skin contributes about one-third of the fat in a typical serving of poultry. Breast meat has fewer calories than dark meat.
- Limit punch and alcohol drinks to one, and mix alcohol with a spritzer instead of high-calorie mixes, juices or colas.
- Snack on raw vegetables, high-fiber fruits, low-fat cheeses and high-fiber flatbreads instead of traditional crackers, chips and dips. Choose salsa as a fat-free dip, or substitute nonfat or low-fat yogurt for sour cream in dips and toppings.