If you ask the average person what they love about the holidays, they’ll most likely respond with two or more favorite things like, holiday music, parties, dinners or spending time with friends, family and loved ones. And if you ask them what they like least about the holidays, they’ll be quick to answer… gaining weight from all the delicious foods they’ll have indulged in over the holidays.
Studies show that a combination of different factors will cause the average American to gain more than 1.5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. While a little holiday weight gain may seem harmless, the problem is that most people have trouble losing that weight after the holidays have passed. And over time, those extra pounds add up. That means prevention is the key!
Here are the top five factors that contribute to weight gain over the holidays and how to handle them:
#1 Food Gifts! Who doesn’t love getting a surprise plate of baked goods?!?! Spread the holiday fun by sharing your food gifts with coworkers, friends and charitable organizations. If possible, freeze your food gifts in portion control bags to enjoy throughout the year. For more info about freezing and food safety, click here.
#2 Traditional Holiday Foods, like casseroles, beverages and baked goods, can pack a high calorie punch. The simplest method for cutting back is to shrink your portion size. Another option for making them healthier is to modify the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for whole milk, sub with 2%, 1% or skim milk to cut back on calories and fat. If a recipe has 2 cups of shredded cheese sprinkled on top, see if 1.5 cups will do the trick. When making a pie or cheesecake, consider making it crustless? Or, consider making the recipe in a portion-controlled way by using muffin tins. The calories saved by making small adjustments add up quickly and there is a good chance your taste buds won’t notice!
#3 Holiday Parties! The food spread at holiday parties is often times the centerpiece of the event- festive, delicious and abundant! If you show up starving, there is a slim to zero chance you will have the willpower to resist. Prevention is key when it comes to holiday parties. Have a healthy snack, like apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon with container of Greek yogurt, before the party so you don’t show up starving. For pot luck gatherings, bring your favorite healthy dish so you have an option you know you will enjoy. As you peruse the food options, start with a small portion of the foods that look the best, and then move away from the food table to socialize. If you drink, alternate your alcoholic beverages with a glass of water, and be sure to have a plan for a safe ride home if needed.
#4 Less Time for Exercise. There are only 24 hours in a day, and with the added time spent on holiday fun and shopping, oftentimes exercise gets moved to the low priority list, and many times, it gets pushed off completely. Before you decide to skip your workout, consider this- exercise is known to improve cognitive function, boost mood and focus, enhance insulin’s ability to lower high blood sugar levels, allow for the removal of toxins through sweat, enhance the quality of sleep, boost immunity, and protect the brain from stress-related hormones, like cortisol. So instead of thinking, “I’m so busy that I don’t have time to exercise”, think “I’m so busy, I can’t afford not to exercise!” And remember that a short workout is better than no workout. If time is tight, aim for 20-30 minutes first thing in the morning or plan to sneak it in throughout your day. A family walk to see the Christmas lights that includes a few short walking or running races against your kids along the way is a fun way to get your blood pumping. When shopping, park farther away and then incorporate small bursts (30-60 seconds) of fast walking as you shop. Alternating small bursts of increased exercise intensity, like fast walking or running for 30-60 seconds with 2-3 minutes of normal pace walking between bursts will burn fat faster, raise endorphins, and leave your feeling more energized than continuous moderately-intensive activities.
#5 Change the “Eat now, lose later” mindset. Keep reminding yourself that prevention is easier than trying to diet and exercise away extra pounds. Eat lighter and healthier on the days surrounding holiday parties so you have some room to splurge. Use small plates for meals and at parties to help you control your portions.
On behalf of American Family Fitness Nutrition Services, I wish you all a happy, safe and healthy time with your loved ones and friends this holiday season.
Pam Speich is the Director of Nutrition Services at American Family Fitness and the Registered Dietitian at the Short Pump American Family Fitness location. She graduated from Carson Newman College with a Bachelor of Science Degree with Honors in Foods and Nutrition with an Emphasis in Dietetics. She completed her Dietetic Internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and earned the credentials Registered Dietitian in 2000. In March 2018, Pam became a certified personal trainer.
Pam’s experience includes nutrition counseling, wellness program development, public speaking, wellness research and writing, sales and marketing, and food labeling. Her areas of nutrition specialty include weight loss, heart healthy diets, diabetes, celiac disease, food allergies and intolerances, and low thyroid conditions. What Pam loves most about being a dietitian is the opportunity to witness lives changed for the better through the power of food.
When Pam is not at the club, you are likely to find her at a sporting event with one or more of her three boys, traveling with her husband, or working on a home improvement project.
Nutrition appointments with Pam are available at Short Pump on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday mornings, Thursday evenings and Friday mornings. Appointments at VCC are available on Saturday afternoons. To schedule, contact: email@example.com