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10 Tips to Prevent Weight Gain This Holiday Season

November 16, 2021
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In this article:

  • Average weight gain during the holiday season is 1 to 2 lb. Overweight people tend to gain more.
  • It does not need to be "all-or-nothing." When you make "better" choices "most" of the time, you will weigh less on January 1 than if you give up on your health starting on Thanksgiving weekend. 
  • Healthy changes can be easy. They can be small. And they can let you eat your favorite holiday foods. These 10 tips can help you fight holiday weight gain this year.
  • Lark can help you stay on track with weight loss and health coaching 24/7 on your smartphone.

It feels like the holiday season was designed to sabotage weight loss! Holiday parties, cookie exchanges, holiday meals, and leftovers are all common. So are holiday-related stress and lack of time for self-care. The result can be weight gain.

But your choices during this time matter. You can make small changes in how you approach the holidays, and the food, fun, and stressors that come with them. These are 10 tips for easy ways to prevent weight gain this holiday season.

1. Get Your Facts Straight

It can be encouraging to realize that average holiday weight gain may be less than you think. Research in Journal of Obesitysays that it is about 0.4 to 0.9 kg (about 1 to 2 lb) per holiday season. The average can be higher for people who are overweight or obese. Weight gain can be less than that if you make good choices regularly from Thanksgiving to New Year's.

2. Set Realistic Goals

For many people, the holiday season is filled with extra challenges on top of regular duties such as work, housekeeping, and caregiving. They may include gift shopping and wrapping, putting up decorations, caring for children who are out of school, meeting with relatives or friends whom you rarely get to see, and hosting or attending parties. These can all take time away from usual activities, such as exercising, cooking healthy, or taking time for yourself. 

The bottom line is that weight loss may not be as fast during the holiday season as it has been recently. Changing your goals and expectations to reflect this can keep you motivated. A new goal might be to maintain weight loss during these several weeks.

3. The Same Weight Loss Behaviors Work

During the rest of the year, weight loss is about healthy choices such as controlling portions, staying active, and eating nutritious foods, for starters. These same daily lifestyle choices support weight loss during the holidays. As proof, a study published in Nutrition and Health found that a 10-week fall program led to weight loss among employees. So, keep doing what you know is right for your health.

4. Holiday Meals Can Be Cheat Meals

Did you know that you can lose weight and still enjoy holiday meals? There is no reason not to take a "cheat meal" for the holidays you celebrate with a meal. You might choose Thanksgiving dinner, an employer's holiday party, Christmas dinner, and a New Year's Eve party, for example, as your holiday cheat meals. 

Small changes can help reduce calories by over 50% without making you feel deprived. These tips can also help.

  • Get in some physical activity before and/or after the meal.
  • Take small portions of treats you love.
  • Avoid high-calorie foods that are not your favorites.
  • Fill your plate mostly with vegetables and lean protein.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) encourages you to have a flexible mindset. Rather than thinking about yourself as "on a diet" or "not on a diet," it is okay to think about making healthy choices as often as you can.

5. Keep Cheat Meals to Single Meals

The most important part about a cheat meal is keeping it to a meal.

  • Stop eating when the meal is over rather than snacking as you clean up.
  • Get rid of high-calorie leftovers, such as pies and stuffing, that are not part of your healthy eating plan.
  • Use leftover skinless turkey and cooked or raw vegetables in nutritious recipes, such as turkey vegetable soup or turkey vegetable egg muffin breakfast cups.

The sooner you go back to your regular meal plan after each cheat meal, the less you will weigh on January 1.

6. Use Common Sense to Stay Healthy.

Basic health measures apply during the holiday season, which is also cold and flu season. Washing your hands is a top way to lower your risk of infections. Mayo Clinic says being physically active, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating nutritious foods can help. Mayo Clinic also offers stress management tips to stay healthy. As a bonus for weight loss, a review article in Frontiers in Nutrition says that drinking more water can increase metabolism and fat metabolism. 

7. Follow COVID-19 Precautions

Speaking of staying healthy, COVID-19 is still with us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC has guidelines. First up is to get fully vaccinated if you are not already, or get a booster if you are eligible for one. If COVID-19 does not scare you personally (maybe you are vaccinated or believe it would not hit you that hard), you might still be motivated to take precautions to avoid passing it to someone you love or to simply avoid quarantining if you get it. And if you get sick, you won't be able to exercise, and you may be one of those people who lose smell. This loss of smell and taste often lasts more than a month, according to research in Journal of Clinical Medicine. That means you could miss out on all your favorite holiday foods this year!

8. Make Small Swaps

Does it really matter if you have half a cookie instead of a full one? Will it help to choose an 8-ounce instead of a 12-ounce pumpkin spice latte? Yes! The holiday season is long. There are about six weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. 

If you regularly save a few calories here and there, those choices will add up over the course of the holiday season. For example, cutting 250 calories a day compared to what you would have otherwise eaten can lead to being 3 pounds lighter on January 1 than you would otherwise have been. 

On holidays, you can choose skinless turkey and smaller servings. Mayo Clinic suggests making lower-fat green beans and mushrooms instead of green bean casserole, crustless pumpkin pie with sugar substitute, and low-sugar cranberry sauce.

These are some other easy changes that cut calories during the holiday season.

Instead of… Try Calories Saved
Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte (390 calories)
Short Pumpkin Spice Latte (210 calories)
2×2-inch square of fudge (400 calories)
1×2 block of fudge (200 calories)
1 ounce of peppermint bark (150 calories)
1 large candy cane (60 calories)
1 small iced sugar or shortbread cookie (150 calories)
5 mini meringue cookies (60 calories)
1 cup of eggnog (350 calories)
¾ cup of eggnog made with skim or almond milk, half the sugar, and less rum or brandy (150 calories)
1 cup of caramel popcorn (220 calories)
1 cup of popcorn with 1 teaspoon of melted butter and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar (90 calories)
½ cup of candied pecans (360 calories)
¼ cup of cocoa-dusted pecans (190 calories)
6-oz cocktail with soda or juice, syrup, and liquor (240 calories)
6-oz. cocktail with seltzer, half the syrup, fresh fruit, and half the liquor (90 calories)
2 appetizers with puff pastry and meat or cheese (270 calories)
6 cocktail shrimp (100 calories)

Click here for more holiday swaps to save calories!

9. Watch Your Drink

Beverages can be high in calories from sugar and alcohol. Pumpkin-flavored coffee drinks, hot chocolate, and drinks at parties are just some of the drinks that can spell bad news for your waistline. These tips can help keep drinks in check.

  • Choosing water and unsweetened tea and coffee. 
  • Reducing portion sizes
  • Avoiding alcohol or limiting yourself to a single drink at parties and special dinners.

10. Be Healthy While Socializing

For many, the holiday season includes catching up with friends and family members. Think what might happen if these meet-ups involve pastries at a coffee shop, or meals at restaurants, a few times a week. The pounds can pack on by January!

Instead, consider healthier activities with friends and family. You might find a way to get moving together. Even simply sitting somewhere, without eating high-calorie fare, is healthier than eating food you do not need. These are possibilities.

  • Meet at a park to walk or just sit together.
  • Make cookies to donate.
  • Go to a movie or a light show.
  • Go gift shopping or wrap gifts together.
  • Have a spa day at home.

Lark can help you stay on track during the holiday season. Lark's nutrition and weight loss coaching includes daily check-ins, meal logging features, and instant feedback. And if motivation is what you need during this busy season, Lark is available 24/7 to provide it. 

Healthy eating during the holidays does not mean giving up everything you love. There are ways to fit in your favorites and stay true to tradition while making healthy choices. Lark can help you make small changes that can keep you on track. 

Your health insurance might cover Lark at no cost to you. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark!

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