How to avoid the dreaded holiday weight gain

Three generations of women cooking together in kitchen

The holidays are often a time to splurge and indulge in all the delicious goodies that many people try to keep at arm’s length during the rest of the year. And while many may consider their seasonal indulgences to be a short-lived phenomenon, the pounds that are packed on during the holiday season rarely get burned off. A new study found that feasting between Thanksgiving and New Year’s leads to added pounds that continue to pile on year after year.

Americans gain about 0.4 percent of their body weight every year in the days surrounding Christmas, according to the newly published research in the New England Journal of Medicine. “For a person weighing 150 pounds, that can add up to an 1.8-pound weight gain over 3 years,” said  Sharon Smalling, a registered dietitian at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. That can really add up over the years if the added pounds are not lost between holidays.

And seasonal weight gain isn’t just isolated to the United States. Men and women who live in Japan and Germany also noted spikes in their weigh during their annual holiday season, as well.  It may be tempting to return to the buffet line for seconds – or thirds — this Thanksgiving, but keeping your waistline in check during the holidays may help stave off long-term weight gain, keeping you trimmer and healthier for years to come, Smalling said.

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To avoid tipping the scale this holiday season, Smalling recommends keeping these tips handy.

  1. Plan ahead. On the morning before a big party or a feast, don’t skip breakfast in an attempt to save room for later. Starving yourself in the morning will leave you ravenous in the afternoon, which can lead to overconsumption of unhealthy foods. Instead, eat a small, low-fat breakfast or lunch to stave off the hunger pains later that can lead to poor nutritional choices. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and make sure to keep a glass handy during the festivities to stay hydrated and curtail hangovers. And don’t be shy about bringing your own food to a party. “Offer to contribute a healthy dish so you can guarantee that there will be a nutritional option available,” Smalling said.
  2. Cook smart. “For most recipes, it’s fairly simple to cut back on the amount of salt and sugar without sacrificing the flavor,” Smalling said. Instead of dishing out high-sodium gravy from a jar, make  your own by skimming the fat from chilled meat juices and thickening the sauce with corn starch. Opt for lower-sodium and low-fat cheeses and cream soups, use egg substitute instead of eggs, and serve up appetizer platters with fresh veggies and healthy dips made from Greek yogurt or hummus. Even the holiday standards can be made healthier with a few small tweaks. “Instead of buying a regular ham, look for one that’s 98 percent fat free, and then give it a good rinse before cooking to remove excess salt. Stack your plate with white meat turkey instead of dark meat. And make your own cranberry relish with fresh fruit and chopped oranges.”
  3. Be mindful of portion sizes. Crowd your plate with healthy salads, seasonal fruits and vegetables, preferably non-starchy ones like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and spinach, Smalling said. At least half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, while the other half should be evenly split between lean meat and grains. Don’t undercut your efforts by drowning your healthy vegetables in butter and fat. Give your guests a few options to dress up their greens with a nice balsamic vinaigrette or other low-fat salad dressing. “Here’s an easy tip: Set the dressing aside and just dip the tines of your fork in between bites,” Smalling said. “That way you get still get the flavor, but not all the fat.”
  4. Work it off. Remember the reason for the season is spending quality time with family and friends. Instead of lingering at the table and nibbling on leftovers, find a comfortable corner away from the tempting spreads of food to catch up with a loved one. Arrange a family walk after the meal or head outdoors to toss a ball around. “Food is obviously a big part of the holidays, but we gather together this time of year because we want to be surrounded by those who we love and care about,” Smalling said. “Make the most of it together by enjoying and encouraging healthy habits.”

Here’s a recipe to get you started on a healthy, happy holiday season.11647-zucchini-bread-receipe-f

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Tashika Varma