When the holidays roll around, it can be easy to forget that you’ve committed to eating a balanced diet. After all, eating some cookies after finishing a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes won’t hurt, right?
If you’re worried about snacking too much and gaining a couple of extra pounds over the holidays, listen to what experts have to say about how you can enjoy some treats without overdoing the snacking and undoing your hard work to manage your weight.
Many people believe that the average person gains at least five pounds during the holiday season, starting from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. But contrary to popular belief, snacking during the holidays doesn’t have to result in weight gain.
Prevent water retention to avoid holiday weight gain
According to Brigitte Zeitlin, a registered dietitian and the owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City, you’re more likely to eat more food at dinner parties and events during the holidays. You might also consume more alcohol and get less sleep, which are two factors linked to weight gain.
Note that eating starchy foods like bread, cakes or pastries, as well as salty snacks can cause bloating and water retention. This means that when you finally weigh yourself, the bathroom scale registers more water weight than fat gain. (Related: Daily self-weighing can help prevent holiday and vacation weight gain, suggests study.)
If you feel bloated and your clothes are a bit tighter, eat more whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also drink more water and ease up on the beer to get rid of water weight.
If you do gain weight over the holidays, you’ll only be one or two pounds heavier
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers worked with adults to learn more about holiday weight gain. They found that the average weight gained by the participants over the holidays was 0.37 kilograms, or less than one pound.
Another interesting finding was that over 50 percent of the participants stayed within a kilogram, or a little over two pounds, of their other weigh-ins.
Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian and the founder of Foodtrainers, explained that how much weight you gain depends on your choice of snacks and how frequently you eat.
If you binge-eat, you’ll definitely gain more than five pounds. But if you practice self-control, you can limit your weight gain to only a pound or two. Even though the five-pound holiday weight gain myth isn’t always true, it’s better for your waistline and heart to indulge in holiday treats wisely.
Exercising more is not the solution
Slayton warns that trying to break even by exercising more during the holidays usually doesn’t work. While physical activity is good for your overall health, it won’t negate all the times you ate junk food at a party.
Zeitlin also says that weight loss is at least 80 percent what you put into your body and 20 percent what you sweat off.
So stop thinking that you can indulge in another slice of cake just because you went to the gym earlier in the day. Making this a habit negates the benefits of working out, even during the holidays.
Self-control is important, but don’t deprive yourself
Whether you’re at a friend’s birthday party or celebrating Thanksgiving with your family, you don’t have to be too hard on yourself.
Enjoy a slice of cake, but don’t eat three slices if you’re already full. To make things easier on yourself and your sweet tooth, plan your meals before going to a party.
If you decide on enjoying two to four cookies, savor each bite so you don’t end up finishing one whole plate by yourself. Remember, being too restrictive on yourself will make you more likely to binge.
You’ll also feel tempted to eat more if you use a larger plate. If the party you’re attending is serving food buffet-style, manage your portions by using smaller plates.
It can be hard to go “cold turkey” if you always over-indulge during the holidays
If you eat and drink too much alcohol at every party throughout the holidays, you may have trouble sticking to a healthier diet. And if you manage to choose a salad for lunch the next day, your gut microbiome may still be suffering from all the holiday treats you’ve been gorging on, so don’t expect it to make much of a difference.
Practice self-control, but don’t overdo it to the point where you’re tempted to eat everything you want until you feel sick. If you’ve been invited to several parties in a row, plan ahead.
For the first party, choose a dessert you can indulge in. At the next event, skip the dessert and treat yourself to a glass or two of wine.
To ensure that you don’t eat too much cake at the next party you attend, start your day by eating a filling breakfast with lean protein and lots of vegetables. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day so you don’t drink too much beer while you’re celebrating with your loved ones.
Eating well doesn’t mean depriving yourself, and enjoying occasional treats is fine if you eat them in moderation. Do this not just during the holidays but during the rest of the year so you can maintain a healthy weight.