Healthy Holidays Challenge: 5 Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

By Sarah Newkirk |

Enjoy all your favorite holiday foods without ever feeling stuffed — or guilty!

5 Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The holidays have a way of throwing even the most dedicated health enthusiast off their game. Not this year! All month long, follow along as SilverSneakers LIVE trainer Shannon Thigpen unwraps our best tips for staying healthy, happy, and, yes, even calm during this busy time of year. Check in here and on our Facebook page for new activities to try. Here’s to your healthiest, happiest holiday season ever! 

The holidays don’t exactly sneak up on us, but extra holiday pounds sure do. That’s because, for most of us, the holidays equal eating (and eating, and eating), says Laura Georgy, R.D.N., a registered dietitian in Denver.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, she says, the emphasis on festive foods and drinks can leave you low on sleep and sacrificing healthy routines.

Thankfully, you can still enjoy all your favorite holiday fare without putting on extra pounds. Try these dietitian-approved tips.

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1. Prioritize Sleep for Stronger Willpower

Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. “Research shows that you will make better food choices, be able to recognize appetite cues, and consume fewer high-calorie foods when you’re well-rested,” Georgy says. No matter how busy your days get, try not to skimp on sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to check out our guide to five sneaky reasons you might be up at night—and what to do about each.

2. Create a Daily Eating Plan

Tracking what you eat and drink in a food journal can help you be aware of what you’re putting into your body. But why not use a food journal to help you avoid overeating in the first place?

“At the beginning of each day, write down what you plan to eat that day,” Georgy says. “We have the most self-control in the morning, so this is the best time to draft a meal plan.”

Before any gathering with friends or family — even small ones — research your food options as much as possible ahead of time. “Be realistic with what you will eat and drink,” she says. “Then work backward to healthfully fill in the rest of your day.”

Need some help? Check out this plan for a perfect day of eating.

3. Pre-Game with Vegetables and Tea

Before you head to holiday festivities — even the more intimate ones — have a pre-meal of vegetables and tea, say Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.

Vegetables, such as sliced bell peppers, carrots, or cucumbers, will fill you up with fiber for very few calories so you won’t arrive hungry. And tea contains the amino acid theanine, which helps bring on a mental alertness and calmness so you have a better chance of making a mindful decision about your food choices when you get to the party.

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4. Eat and Enjoy—Really!

Mindful eating can help you avoid extra calories all year, but it’s especially helpful during the holidays. Go ahead and enjoy those once-a-year holiday treats. Just remember to “pay attention to your food,” says Sarah Mirkin, R.D., a dietitian in Beverly Hills, California. “Eat slowly, and savor it.”

Simple trick: Always move away from the food. Instead of standing over the chips and dip while talking to your friend, put a handful of chips and a tablespoon of dip on your plate and find a spot to continue your conversation. Bonus: It’ll be easier to catch up with your friend if you don’t have to keep moving out of the way for others.

5. Keep Liquid Calories in Check

It’s certainly possible to have fun without alcohol, but if you do choose to drink, remember that alcohol has calories too. “Steer clear of cocktails with many ingredients that can really pack a lot of calories,” says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., a nutrition expert in New York City. “Instead, choose a five-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of light beer, which counts as one serving of alcohol.”

It’s also a good idea to drink a glass of water or seltzer between each alcoholic beverage to keep yourself hydrated, she says. As you age, your body’s ability to conserve water is reduced and your sense of thirst weakens, so it’s especially important for older adults to sip H2O. Watch for these lesser-known signs you might be dehydrated.

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