8 No-Diet Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season

Use this easy-to-follow game plan to help you make healthy choices over the holidays.

Family having breakfast together

by NEA Member Benefits

From annual holiday parties to sweet treats from appreciative students, holiday merry-making typically translates to excess pounds. In fact, studies suggest that, on average, people gain one to two pounds during the six-week period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. No big deal, right?

Trouble is, most of us don’t drop the pounds we pack on from year to year, says Mark Macdonald, nutritionist, kinesiologist and author of the New York Times bestselling book Body Confidence: Venice Nutrition’s 3-step System that Unlocks Your Body’s Full Potential. And that extra holiday chub adds up to a 10-20 pound weight gain over the course of a decade. That IS a big deal.

Here, our Do’s and Don’ts for holiday celebrating without the extra cushioning.

1. DO make a plan. From Thanksgiving to New Years, you need a defensive plan to manage your weight. “Knowing you’ll be navigating dietary minefields can make it easier to come up with strategies to avoid them,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N., coauthor of The Calendar Diet: A Month By Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life. Think about the events you’ll be going to and envision what they’ll be like. Then outline your game plan. That can mean sipping a wine spritzer to keep you away from the buffet (and occupying your hands so it’s harder to eat), socializing with friends before you nosh, or having a satisfying snack before the office party so you don’t arrive famished. During the slippery month of November, block time each Sunday to stock your kitchen with healthy foods and plan your exercise routine for the coming week.

2. DO stash snacks. When your blood sugar is stable it’s almost impossible to store body fat. “Make sure healthful foods are always within arm’s length to keep your body fueled, balanced and burning body fat,” says Macdonald. Snacks can be as simple as a protein bar in your purse, or as complete as a cooler with Greek yogurt, nuts and fruit. The key: making sure you have balanced meals at-the-ready when hunger strikes.

3. DO write it down. A sugar cookie here, a spoonful of stuffing there. Since holiday foods are so rich, even those little nibbles add up. If you’re prone to mindless munching, now is the perfect time to start a food diary. “Just knowing you’re going to track what you eat makes you more likely to scrutinize what you put in your mouth,” says Ansel. Carry a pad with you, record what you eat in your PDA, or even use one of the many on-line diet journals like myfooddiary.com or fitday.com.

4. DO pick your poisons carefully. While there’s no clear evidence that one form of alcohol is more likely to cause hangovers than another, there are differences between beverages. Mixed drinks and beer tend to have more calories than wine. Wine, on the other hand, has complex polyphenols, which may cause headaches in sensitive individuals. A relatively safe bet: Flavored vodka and club soda (extra ice) – the lowest cal cocktail around, says Ansel.

5. DON’T skip meals. You might think you’re minimizing the damage by slashing calories, but you’re actually encouraging fat storage, says Macdonald. When you deprive yourself all day, your body shifts into survival mode and prepares for famine. Your metabolism slows, you start burning lean tissue and your body begins conserving energy and stockpiling any future calories as fat. Eat a protein-rich snack (like yogurt and berries, an apple and a mozzarella stick or a balanced energy bar) every 3-4 hours to help stabilize your blood sugar, keep your metabolism humming and stave off comfort food cravings.

6. DON’T deny yourself. The holidays only come once a year, so if you love pumpkin pie or eggnog, go ahead and splurge, says Ansel. Make room in your calorie budget by allowing yourself mini portions of the holiday foods you love most, while bypassing rich ones you can get year-round (like cheese and crackers), and eat lighter, fiber-rich meals throughout the day.

7. DON’T eat standard portions. Even small portions of delectable holiday foods can wreak havoc on your diet. Holiday foods are higher in calories, sugar and fat. So, if you’re going to have that fudge or dip into the eggnog, keep an eye on serving sizes. Your best bet for ensuring portion control: Help yourself to only half of what you think is a normal-sized portion.

8. DON’T ditch exercise. Few of us have time to keep up our regular workout schedules during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up exercise altogether. Don’t be afraid to temporarily downsize your routine, to a modified mini-workout that’s easier to stick to. “Do your best to squeeze in 10-20 minutes of exercise and make it a high intensity workout (like interval training) to maximize your workout,” says Macdonald. Staying flexible with your workout time keeps your weight consistent even when time is not!